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December Public Policy News

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THE VIEW FROM CAPITOL HILL: The elections resulted in at least 63 new seats for Republicans in the U.S. House, giving them control for the first time since 2006. Republicans had a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate and picked up six new governor's seats - many in large states which will give them control of congressional redistricting following release of the 2010 census. For a quick overview of the election, see www.usinnovation.org/node/92.

LAME DUCK SESSION: The Lame Duck session of Congress began in late November and extension of the so-called Bush tax cuts quickly became a focus for both parties. The Administration has proposed a compromise tax plan that would extend Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, including the richest, while also extending unemployment benefits and reducing payroll taxes for a year.

FEDERAL BUDGET: The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released its final report on 1 December calling for drastic reductions in federal spending, including entitlements like social security.  Of note, the Budget Deficit Commission did single out research spending and education spending as key programs that should not be part of overall fiscal austerity measures.

President Obama ordered a two-year pay freeze for all federal employees except those serving in the active military. The FY 2012 budget, will be presented by President Obama in early February.

FY 2011 BUDGET IS STILL HANGING: As of this writing, the federal government is left unfunded for FY 2011 because all 12 appropriations bills have not been passed and the continuing resolution, which was extended 15 days, will soon run out. Negotiations continue, and science-related agencies are preparing for cuts in a variety of programs. Based upon comments from Republican Congressional Officials, it appears that many of the Administration's new programs related to innovation, particularly in green energy, technology innovation and manufacturing will be under scrutiny including ARPA-E funding which is slated to be eliminated entirely in FY 2012.

COMMITTEE WRANGLING IN HOUSE: As of this writing, it appears that Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) will be the next Chairman of the House Science & Technology Committee. There was some indication that Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) would be interested in the position if Hall did not want the slot. Here's an early review of who the new Committee Chairmen will be in the House: GOP House Transition Team (Rep. Greg Walden, OR); House Appropriations (Rep. Jerry Lewis, CA); House Budget Committee (Rep. Paul Ryan, WI); Energy & Commerce (Rep. Joe Barton, TX or Rep. Fred Upton (MI); and House Armed Services (Rep. "Buck" McKeon, CA).

AMERICA COMPETES ACT UNLIKELY TO BE ENACTED: Sources in the U.S. Senate have told SPIE that the America COMPETES reauthorization Act of 2010 is unlikely to be enacted during the Lame Duck session, barring an extraordinary effort by supportive Republicans like Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  to move the measure forward. Although a House bill passed earlier this year, the Senate has not pass its own version of the bill. Our sources also tell us that COMPETES has a "10 -15%" chance of enactment during the Lame Duck session.

NEW CONGRESS, NEW MESSAGE: Strategies and messaging around the support of science may need to be "recalibrate" for the next Congress.  A 4 November bipartisan roundtable hosted by Science Magazine featured Members and former Members of Congress who dealt with the topic. A synopsis of their discussion is below, courtesy of Science Magazine:

"One of the most important things for scientists to do is to change the vocabulary," says Representative Sherry Boehlert (R-NY), a former chairperson of the House of Representatives Science Committee who retired from Congress in 2007 after 24 years in office. "No longer should we be talking about investing in science or increasing R&D funding or STEM education because it's important for science. We should make this a national security issue. When a lot of the conversation is about the next Congress cutting or freezing all non-national security spending, we ought to take [science] funding and put it under the national security umbrella. Because it is a question of national security-lessening dependence on foreign oil, competitiveness, providing opportunities for our young people, creating jobs."

Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV), who chairs the appropriations panel that sets the budgets of NASA, the National Science Foundation, and science activities at the departments of Energy and Commerce, noted that "you have friends here [in Congress], and even the Obama Administration is your friend, although it's not reflected in every one of its budget requests. But you need to help … by popularizing the importance of these programs to society generally." Mollohan was defeated earlier this year in a Democratic primary after 28 years in Congress.

Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC), a former chair of the science committee's research panel who was defeated in a Republican primary and is leaving after six terms, said that scientists need to show that their work will eventually play a role in completing what he calls "the triple play of this American century: Improving national security, creating jobs, and cleaning up the air." His formula? "By selling the sizzle, [scientists] can help rescue us from a retreat from science and actually help to lead an advance."

BAYH-DOLE BILL TO BE TESTED BY SUPREME COURT CASE: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging universities' claims to ownership of faculty inventions created with federal funding. The case, Stanford v. Roche, attacks the core of the Bayh-Dole Act, which permits universities to retain negotiated rights to research funded by taxpayer dollars. According to press reports, Stanford sued the pharmaceutical company Roche, alleging infringement of technology for detecting HIV levels in a patient's blood. The university claims it owns the technology because its discoverer worked at Stanford. Roche counters that the inventor signed a contract that gave the company patent rights to anything that resulted from their collaboration. In a September 2009 ruling, the U.S. Federal Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit overturned a California District Court decision, stating that "Stanford lacks standing to assert its claims of infringement against Roche."

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