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April Public Policy News

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FY 2011 BUDGET END GAME: The ongoing budget debate continues to get more complicated and rancorous in D.C. as a deadline nears on Saturday, April 9 for funding most federal government operations. Republican and Democrat leaders in both the House and Senate negotiate over how much to slash from the FY 2011 budget.

BOEHNER'S $33 BILLION IN CUTS FOR FY 2011 "TOO LITTLE" - OR "TOO MUCH?" The most recent D.C. debates focus upon efforts by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to cut an additional $33 billion in current FY 2011 spending. Conservatives in the House Republican Caucus think this amount is too small. House Republicans have some differences with their colleagues in the U.S. Senate. Democrats have similar problems. House Democrats are for the most part marginalized in the current debate. The Obama Administration is pressuring Senate Democrats (where the Democrats have a majority) to significantly cut mandatory spending programs (entitlements) in place of "discretionary" budget decisions that House Republicans champion. Constituent groups continue to oppose any cuts to favorite programs.

To complicate matters, the FY 2012 budget fight began April 5 with hearings convened by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan is proposing more than $4 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade - many of them related to entitlements. Ryan is urging all participants to act upon some of the recommendations of the President's blue ribbon Fiscal Commission, which made non-binding recommendations released in late December, 2010.

HOUSE NSF / NIST HEARINGS: The House Science, Space & Technology Committee held sometimes contentious hearings on March 11 over the Administration's FY 2012 Budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Witnesses included new NSF Director Subra Suresh; Ray Bowen, Chairman of the National Science Board; and Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of NIST. Chairman Ralph Hall's (R-TX) opening statement praised both agencies while voicing concern about the 13% increases requested for NSF in FY 2012 during a time of fiscal constraint.

SBIR REAUTHORIZATION ADVANCES IN SENATE, NEW HEARINGS IN HOUSE: S. 493 the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011, is currently under consideration by the full Senate. Following extensive debate that began April 1, the measure was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs for consideration of an amendment limiting SBIR funding to U.S.-based activities only. In addition, an amendment by newly elected Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to cut $200 million from SBIR programs across the board will be voted upon later.

On the House side, proponents of SBIR Reauthorization are still awaiting action by the House Small Business Committee, which appears to favor a bill more amendable to venture capital interests and large pharmaceutical companies. Related hearings in the House began on April 1 when the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology began assessing the current effectiveness of the SBIR and STTR programs in promoting innovation and job growth.

PATENT "REFORM" BILL PASSES SENATE - NOW IT'S ON TO THE HOUSE: The U.S. Senate passed S. 23, the America Invents Act of 2011 on March 8. Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and 14 others, the bill creates some radical changes in the U.S. patent system. It would allow outside parties to file information related to patent applications, potentially allowing outsiders to challenge patent applications, and it would create new ways to challenge patents after the USPTO has awarded them. It would narrow the ability of patent holders to collect multimillion-dollar damage awards, and it would allow the USPTO to set its own fees for patents. The measure is supported by many large technology companies, but opposed by most manufacturers, the small business community, the pharmaceutical industry and many other traditional industrial firms.

HOUSE VERSION OF PATENT "REFORM" INTRODUCED MARCH 30: Now that the Senate has passed its version of patent "reform," the U.S. House is reconsidering its own version of the America Invents Act - one that is very similar to a bill that it passed in the last Session of Congress. On March 30, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced H.R. 1249. It was immediately referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary in addition to the Committee on the budget.

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