Science & Technology in Congress
The 105th Congress convened on January 7, 1997, and was in session January 7-9 before adjourning until later in the month. In a dramatic close win, a humbled Newt Gingrich (R-GA) was re-elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. Speaker Gingrich's contrition may signal the beginning of a much hoped-for return to civil, bipartisan legislating in the new Congress. A cooperative spirit may be necessary in order to make the tough choices that the drive to balance the budget requires.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) will replace retiring Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR) as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) will remain ranking minority member. Sen. Stevens' priorities for the 105th Congress include balancing the budget and preserving a strong national defense system. On the House side, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA) will remain chairman of the Appropriations Committee, despite a bid for the seat by Rep. Joseph McDade (R-PA). Rep. Livingston, while still committed to the goals of the GOP "Contract with America," has expressed the need for the Republican party to work with the President in the new Congress. Rep. Livingston also advocates the elimination of the Department of Energy. Rep. David Obey (D-WI) will stay on as ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will chair the Science Committee of the 105th Congress, succeeding Robert Walker (R-PA). Former Chairman Walker has been named president of the Wexler Group, a prominent DC based lobbying firm. Rep. Sensenbrenner served as chair of the Subcommittee on Space in the 104th Congress where he supported space science and the international space station. He has had concerns, though, about Russian participation in the space station project in the past, concerns which could only have been strengthened by the loss of the Russian Mars probe and evidence of inadequate shielding in the plans for Russian components of the station.
Following the electoral defeat of Larry Pressler (R-SD), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will take over the helm of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Sen. McCain was chair of the Aviation Subcommittee in the 104th Congress. The Commerce Committee has already taken on the issue of airbag safety standards, and held hearings in January.
At press time, the committees were still in the process of organizing, and few official legislative agendas were available. It is safe to predict, however, that budget issues will be the preoccupation of the new Congress, as they were with its predecessor. While science and technology continue to enjoy widespread bipartisan support, one of the challenges that the lawmakers of the 105th Congress face will be to determine the fate of funding for science and technology programs in the context of a balanced federal budget.