Midterm Congressional Elections
2010 Elections Result in Divided 112th Congress. The results of the 2010 midterm elections will lead to a divided legislature in the 112th Congress next year. The Republican Party regained control of the House of Representatives (239 Republican, 187 Democrats, 9 races still undecided), while Democrats retained control of the Senate, although by a much smaller margin after losing six seats (53 Democrats, 46 Republican, 1 race undecided). Political pundits are expecting more gridlock in legislation next year. In the House the transition will usher in a new slate of committee chairmen, and although final decisions may not be made until January 2011, House Science and Technology Committee Ranking Minority Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) issued a statement expressing his interest in serving as full committee chairman and pursuing an agenda that focuses on “strong oversight” and federal R&D investments that “empower the free market, not interfere in it.” Meanwhile, Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL), the most senior member of the House S&T Committee, issued a statement saying that he does not want to serve as the ranking member of the full committee and prefers to focus his energy on transportation issues in the next Congress.
FY 2011 Budget Update. Despite a Republican proposal in A Pledge to America for immediate spending cuts to FY 2008 levels, Senate Republicans have indicated that they are working with their Democratic colleagues to put together an omnibus spending bill for the lame duck session totaling $1.108 trillion, just $28 billion under the President’s request and $6 billion under the 302(b) allocations approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in mid-July. (The term refers to the allocations of specific spending totals for each of the appropriations subcommittees.) A Senate-passed omnibus bill with limited spending cuts is likely to pass the current Democratic-controlled House relatively easily in the lame duck session.
For a look at what FY 2008 spending levels might mean for federal R&D investments and a detailed post-election analysis, visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website.
President Emphasizes Importance of R&D and Education Investments in Post-Election Speech. In a press conference following the midterm elections, President Obama discussed the importance of reducing the deficit but emphasized that “I want to make sure that we’re not cutting into education,” and that we should not be “cutting back on research and development.”
Other Congressional News
Letter Urges Senate Passage of America COMPETES Act. A letter signed by 250 organizations representing scientific societies, universities, businesses, and associations (including AAAS) was sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging Senate passage of the America COMPETES Act (S. 3605) during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress. The House version of America COMPETES passed that chamber in May.
Subsidies for Antibiotics Research Under Consideration. The New York Times has reported that several plans are being formulated to spur development of antibiotics that can treat infections caused by bacteria resistant to current drugs. Although one of the key proponents, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), will lose his chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee in January, the notion seems to have bi-partisan support. In late September Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), a physician, and several co-sponsors from both parties introduced the “Generating Antibiotic Incentives Now Bill of 2010” (HR 6331) to provide incentives for antibiotic development. Separately, BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced R&D Authority, created to fund development of anti-bioterrorism agents, has begun awarding “multi-use” contracts for products that could also be used to fight antibiotic-resistant infections.
House Committee Members Concerned About Medical Isotopes. Two House Energy and Commerce Committee members—Texas Republicans Joe Barton and Michael Burgess—have written to Energy Secretary Steven Chu to request information on the availability of medical isotopes that are used in cancer research. The letter states that DOE is the only department that can produce the isotopes but that it abandoned its efforts after 2005 because of congressional and agency concern over safety, cost, and security. A subsequent DOE Inspector General report also raised concerns about the availability of medical isotopes.
Survey Reveals Dissatisfaction with Conflict-of-Interest Rules. National Institutes of Health researchers are largely unhappy with the conflict-of-interest rules that resulted from a 2005 crackdown, according to a survey published recently in Academic Medicine. Eighty percent of surveyed respondents considered the rules too strict, and nearly that many said they impede NIH’s mission. The rules restrict scientists from consulting for drug companies and similar outside interests and limit their ability to invest in these companies. Not surprisingly, NIH collaboration with industry has fallen, according to the survey. But the ethics rules did not seem to affect productivity—e.g., papers published and patents sought. In related news, a report published by the conservative Manhattan Institute charged that conflict-of-interest rules at NIH and the Food and Drug Administration have gone too far.
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Supreme Court Accepts Case Challenging Key Feature of Bayh-Dole Act. 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, strikes at the core of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allows universities to retain the rights to research funded by federal grants. 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.” A friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Obama administration stated that the appeals-court ruling undermined the intent of the Bayh-Dole Act and “turns the act’s framework on its head.” The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case early next year in time to rule by the end of June.
California Climate Initiatives. California voters defeated Proposition 23, which would have suspended a California cap-and-trade program until the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters. However, they passed the little-known Proposition 26, which could make environmental regulations, including cap-and-trade, more difficult to implement. Proposition 26 requires fees that “address adverse impacts on society or the environment” to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature. Some analysts believe that the measure could affect the implementation of California’s climate change measures, but California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols disagreed, noting that the ballot measure applies only to laws passed after January 1, 2010, and the climate program is based on a 2006 law.
Arizona Universities Dealing with Measure Barring Consideration of Race, Ethnicity, Gender. In the recent election Arizona voters approved Proposition 107, which bans the consideration of race, ethnicity and gender by units of state government, including public colleges and universities. The University of Arizona has posted a video on the potential impacts, particularly in admissions decisions and scholarships programs. The President of the University of Arizona has issued a statement noting that while the legal environment has changed, the university will continue to find ways to maintain a diverse student body.
UNESCO Issues International Report on Engineering. UNESCO has issued what it calls its first-ever international report on engineering. The report is intended to draw attention to the role engineering can play in meeting global issues and challenges, to identify issues and challenges in engineering, and to highlight ways of making engineering a more attractive career choice for students. The report notes that engineering has been often overlooked in development policy and planning, and finds that many countries are experiencing a shortage of engineers.
U.S. and India Sign Clean Energy Agreement. President Obama and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Singh, signed an agreement to establish a Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center in India. Each country would fund the center at $5 million/year – an amount to be matched by the private sector. The Center’s priorities would include “building efficiency, solar energy, and advanced biofuels.”
Confusion Over Scientists’ Efforts to Counter Climate Change Skeptics. An independent group of about 40 scientists organized by John Abraham of St. Thomas University and Scott Mandia of Suffolk County Community College reportedly has formed a “rapid response team” to counter what they feel is disinformation on climate change. Media outlets and bloggers apparently mistakenly associated this unaffiliated effort with the pending re-launch of American Geophysical Union's (AGU) Climate Q&A Service, which is intended to focus on science, not on policy options.
The Economist Conducting Poll on Geoengineering. To accompany an article on geoengineering, The Economist is running a poll , open November 8-15, on whether geoengineering research should be banned. This follows in the wake of the call from the Convention on Biological Diversity for a moratorium on geoengineering that may affect biodiversity, as reported in last week's Policy Alert.UN Panel Proposes Means of Raising Funds to Cope with Climate Change.
An advisory panel appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and including U.S. economic adviser Lawrence Summers, financier George Soros, and French economic minister Christine Lagarde, has suggested
a combination of approaches to raise the $100 billion a year reportedly needed to assist developing countries in coping with climate change. Concluding that no single means would be sufficient by itself, the panel proposed a variety of revenue-generating ideas, including “auctioning the right to pollute, taxes on carbon production, an international travel tax, and a tax on international financial transactions, as well as government grants and loans.”
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