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America COMPETES bill voted down again

Seattle Times / AP 
19 May 2010

It was strike two for a major science funding bill on 19 May as House Republicans again united to derail legislation they said was too expensive.

Going down to defeat was the COMPETES Act, which would have committed more than $40 billion over three years to boost funding for the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies involved in basic and applied science, provided loan guarantees to small businesses developing new technologies and promoted science and math education.

The legislation restored the programs the Republicans tried to kill last week with amendments, but reduced to three years, rather than five, the life of the measure. Democrats made a losing gamble by bringing the bill up under a procedure that prevented Republicans from offering more amendments but requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. The vote was 261-148 for passage, short of the two-thirds needed. Every Democrat supported it, but only 15 of 163 voting Republicans backed it.

Full story from Seattle Times / Associated Press
America Competes Act fails again (The Hill's Technology Blog)

Previous story (13 May 2010)

A Democrat-led effort to expand federal support for university research hit a roadblock on Thursday when the House of Representatives accepted a Republican proposal to trim spending levels and impose new conditions on the government and on institutions.

The House voted, 292 to 126, in favor of the proposal, effectively halting Democratic plans to pass a five-year renewal of the America COMPETES Act. The amendment would cut spending levels down to amounts authorized for the current fiscal year, and would reduce the duration of the act's renewal to three years rather than five years. Congress first approved the bill in 2007 with the goal of doubling within seven years the total amount of federal spending on long-term basic research.

House Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon said he will push to bring the bill back to the floor and urged groups that have endorsed the measure, to actively support it when it returns to the full House.

Earlier report from the American Institue of Physics (28 April 2010):

On April 28, the House Science and Technology Committee approved by a vote of 29 "yes" to 8 "no" votes the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. "It's been a long day. You have been part of history," Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) told his colleagues after they had spent the entire day working on this bill that now goes to the House floor.

The committee began its work with Gordon announcing that it would be considering 60 amendments to the 222-page bill that he had introduced in the House on April 22. Both Gordon and Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) gave upbeat opening statements, with Gordon emphasizing the bipartisan process that brought the bill before the full committee. Hall spoke of the importance of investments in basic science research and development, but also described his concerns about the cost of the bill, the new programs it authorizes, and "our current dire economic situation."

An authorization bill has two major purposes: establishing or continuing a federal agency, program, or activity, and setting funding limits to guide appropriations bills. The markup session revolved around both, with much discussion about money. After introducing his bill the week before, Gordon reworked the numbers to reduce the total authorized funding level by 10 percent in an amended version he brought before the committee. "We will maintain a doubling path for our research accounts over the next ten years, but on a slightly less steep trajectory." Hall described his concerns that seven new programs or initiatives in the bill "are potentially duplicative of current efforts and divert funding away from basic science research and development," adding that they increase the authorization level by billions of dollars.

Republican-sponsored amendments sought to reduce the total cost of the reworked bill that Gordon brought before the committee. Most were defeated along party lines. The bill authorizes about $82 billion in spending for five years, with annual budget increases of approximately 7 percent for the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science, and the laboratory program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Following a failed attempt to reduce the ARPA-E authorization period from ten years to three years, the committee agreed to an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) to a reduction of five years. Rohrbacher contended that as a new agency, a shorter authorization period would allow a future Congress to make needed adjustments in ARPA-E's programs.

"The bill is favorably reported" said Chairman Gordon as the committee concluded its work. The next step for H.R. 5116 is its consideration by the full House. Gordon hopes to have the House consider it before it leaves for the Memorial Day recess.