Republican Study Committee Releases Spending Proposal. The Republican Study Committee (RSC) released details of its proposed Spending Reduction Act of 2011 on January 20. The RSC is a caucus-like group made up of 175 conservative House Republican Members (including 73 freshmen), representing nearly three-fourths of all House Republicans. The bill, as yet un-numbered, calls for holding FY 2011 non-security discretionary spending at FY 2008 levels ($95 billion less than the FY 2011 request) and holding FY 2012-2021 non-defense discretionary spending at FY 2006 levels ($174 billion less than the FY 2011 request), with no allowance for inflation. The bill details $330 billion in program cuts and eliminations over the next ten years as part of the overall spending reductions. Three R&D-related programs are included in the list of proposed cuts: the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology ($70 million annually); the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at NIST ($125 million annually); and unspecified reductions in applied research at the Department of Energy ($1.27 billion annually).
On January 25 the House passed a separate measure, A Resolution Reducing Non-Security Spending to Fiscal Year 2008 Levels or Less (H.Res.38), by a vote of 256-165 (with all 239 Republicans and 17 Democrats voting in favor). The resolution, which was crafted by the House leadership and does not have the force of law, does not include details on specific programs to be cut, but does direct the Chair of the Committee on the Budget to establish an overall spending limit for FY 2011 as allowed for in the House rules for the 112th Congress. The House action, taken on the eve of the President’s State of the Union Address, represents another step in what will be an ongoing struggle over which branch of government – and which political party – will be perceived by the public as more seriously addressing federal deficits.
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Other Congressional News
House Committees Continue Organizing. The Energy and Commerce Committee held an organizational meeting last week to establish rules and determine Republican and Democrat subcommittee membership. Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) announced that the committee would no longer consider legislation that simply authorized spending of “such sums as may be necessary,” as he believes this language cedes spending authority to appropriators and gives agency heads excessive leeway when requesting funding. Ranking Members for the subcommittees were announced; Republicans named their subcommittee chairs earlier this month. Bobby Rush (D-IL) will be Ranking Member on Energy and Power; Gene Green (D-TX) on Environment and the Economy; G.K. Butterfield (D- NC) on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade; Diana DeGette (D-CO) on Oversight and Investigations; Frank Pallone (D- NJ) on Health; and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), on Communications and Technology. The Committee’s web site lists the jurisdictions of each of the subcommittees (although at this writing, the names there have not yet been updated to reflect the subcommittees’ recent restructuring).
The Science, Space and Technology Committee postponed its organizing meeting last week, with no new date yet scheduled. The Committee has announced its subcommittee chairs. Four of the panels will be led by freshmen. Andy Harris (R-MD) was elected Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment; Ben Quayle (R-AZ), Chair of the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation; Mo Brooks (R-AL), Chair of the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education; and Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Chair of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Paul Broun (R-GA), now in his third House term, had previously been announced as Chair of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.
The House Appropriations Committee now has detailed Majority and Minority rosters. Hal Rogers (R-KY) will chair the full committee, with Norm Dicks (D-WA) serving as the ranking member. Frank Wolf (R-VA) will chair the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee, with Chaka Fattah (D-PA) serving as ranking member. The Energy and Water subcommittee is chaired by Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), with Pete Visclosky (D-IN) serving as the ranking member. The Interior Subcommittee is chaired by Mike Simpson (R-ID), with Jim Moran (D-VA) serving as the ranking member. Senate Judiciary to Introduce Patent Reform Bill.
On January 25 a bipartisan group of Senate Judiciary Committee members, including Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will introduce the Patent Reform Act of 2011
. The bill, which is scheduled to be marked up on January 27, is based on compromise language found in previously failed patent reform bills. Among other things, the bill would change (1) the patent system from first-to-invent to first-to-file, (2) Patent Office funding mechanisms, and (3) the manner in which damages are calculated. In 2010, the Patent Office approved roughly 220,000 patents, 31% more than 2009 and 27% higher than 2006, the previous high.
State of the Union Address Focuses on Jobs, Competitiveness, Education. President Obama’s State of the Union Address on January 25 emphasized the themes of encouraging U.S. innovation, improving education, and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. The President stressed the importance of federal support for R&D, promising to invest in “biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology." He set a goal of “[preparing] 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math” over the next ten years. In addition, he proposed that federal spending for domestic programs be frozen for the next five years, beginning this year. Responses to the President’s address, by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) for the Republican Party, and Michelle Bachman (R-MN) speaking for the “Tea Party” community, emphasized the dangers of a growing federal debt, citing the need for dramatic cutbacks in federal spending.
EPA to Allow Higher Ethanol Blend in Fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a waiver that will allow fuel that contains up to 15 percent ethanol (up from 10 percent) to be used in model years 2001 through 2006 passenger vehicles. The agency also announced that no waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines, because current testing data does not support such waivers.
People in the News. The White House announced that Carol Browner, President Obama's top energy and environmental adviser, plans to leave the White House in the coming weeks. No details on a replacement for her position have been announced.
State Anti-evolution Bills Introduced. Two anti-evolution bills—one in each chamber—have been introduced in Oklahoma this month. The Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act (House Bill 1551) would require that teachers assist students to “understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories” on the topics of “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” The Senate bill (SB 554) provides that teachers should not be prohibited from teaching “the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses of controversial topics in sciences,” including but not limited to “biological origins of life and biological evolution.” The bills are similar to legislation introduced in 2009 that died in committee. In Missouri, House Bill 195 was introduced on January 13. It would allow students “to understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.” Like its Oklahoma counterpart, the bill is similar to legislation introduced last year but which failed to make it through the legislative process.
Bills Introduced in Virginia to Curb AG Investigations. Two bills have been introduced in the Virginia legislature to curb the power of Virginia’s attorney general to use the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. The legislation is designed to limit inquiries such as the efforts of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) to obtain documents and e-mails related to the work of Michael Mann, a former University of Virginia climate scientist. A bill sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) would shield academic work at universities from being subject to civil investigative demands under the Act. A broader effort sponsored by Sen. Don McEachin (D-Henrico) would require that the attorney general first file a lawsuit in court that can be reviewed by a judge before he is able to issue subpoenas under the Act in civil cases.
University Reaches Settlement in Case of Astronomer Alleging Religious Discrimination. A settlement has been reached in the case of C. Martin Gaskell v. University of Kentucky. Gaskell had been a candidate to direct a new observatory at the University, but was not selected in part because of his apparently critical views on evolution, based upon talks he had given to campus religious groups as well as some of his writings. Gaskell filed suit against the university, alleging discrimination on the basis of his religious beliefs. The case was scheduled to go to a jury trial on February 8, but the settlement, under which the University agreed to pay Gaskell and his attorneys $125,000 but does not admit wrongdoing, will apparently preclude the trial. According to Inside Higher Education, Gaskell took a position at the University of Texas at Austin and “is now preparing to relocate to the Universidad de Valparaiso in Chile.”
Supreme Court Unanimously Upholds Background Checks on Agency Contractors’ Personnel. On January 19 the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision (with Justice Kagan recusing herself), reversed a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of NASA v. Nelson. The Court held that NASA background checks of contractors at the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Lab were tailored to the government’s interest and therefore did not violate the scientists’ privacy. The Court said that questions designed to determine an individual’s emotional stability and history of illegal drug use were allowable, even for those not involved in classified activities. This type of background check has been in effect since 2005, based on a directive from the Department of Homeland Security.
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U.S., China Sign New Clean Energy Agreements. The U.S and China last week announced a variety of commercial and governmental partnerships on clean energy through the U.S.-China Strategic Forum on Clean Energy Cooperation. In addition to multiple agreements with private sector companies, the two nations moved ahead on agreements related to energy efficiency research, clean electricity, next-generation aviation biofuels, congestion and multimodal transportation planning, electric vehicles, and livable communities.
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