House Republicans Propose CR for Remainder of Fiscal Year. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has announced that House Republicans plan to bring to the floor the week of February 14 a continuing resolution (CR) that would cover government funding through the end of FY 2011(that is, through September 30, 2011). No specific budget figures have been released, but it is expected that the proposed CR would reduce spending to FY 2008 levels as passed in last week's House resolution (H.Res.38). Additionally, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) said during debate on that resolution that the CR would "make the largest series of spending cuts in history." These actions would coincide with the anticipated release of President Obama's FY 2012 budget proposal.
Visit the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program Website to stay up-to-date on action on the FY 2011 budget.
Biennial Budget Appropriations Act Introduced. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have introduced the Biennial Budget Appropriations Act (S.211), which would switch the annual federal budget process to a two-year cycle, with the first year dedicated to appropriations and the second year dedicated to oversight of federal programs. Reps. David Dreier (R-CA) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) are sponsoring a similar bill (H.R.114) in the House. Nineteen states have biennial budget cycles. These proposals respond in part to the increased difficulty of completing the federal budget on time. Congress has done that only twice since 1980.
R&D Credit Tied to Domestic Production? Last week Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) announced plans to introduce a bill that would increase the existing R&D tax credit for companies that produce goods domestically. The increase would range from 2% for companies with 50-60% of sales from domestically-produced goods, up to a 10% increase for companies with 90%-100% of sales from domestically-produced goods. President Obama released his plan, which was not tied to domestic production, for an increased and permanent R&D tax credit in September of last year.
Other Congressional News
The House is in recess this week, while the Senate remains in session to tackle authorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. Last week the Senate voted 92-4 to revise its rule governing "secret holds" on legislation, which had allowed a Senator to anonymously object to bringing legislation to the floor for debate and vote. Under the new rule, a Senator must object in writing to a motion to proceed and allow the objection to be published in the Congressional Record . Elsewhere, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has released its legislative agenda for 2011 and announced that it will focus on "jobs, economic security, and growth." Issues it plans to address include strengthening STEM education and implementing the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.
House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Elects Ranking Members. Democrats on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee have elected their ranking members. The Ranking Members include Donna Edwards (D-MD) for the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight; David Wu (D-OR) for the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation; Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) for the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education; and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) for the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Jerry Costello (D-IL) will serve as the Acting Ranking Member during Giffords' absence.
Senate Announces Makeup of Committees. The Senate agreed to Democrat/Republican committee ratios, and each party announced its members' committee assignments. The updated assignments for science-related committees are at the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress web site.
Oil Spill Bill Introduced. Led by Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA), a number of House Democrats introduced oil spill reform legislation last week. The Implementing the Recommendations of the BP Oil Spill Commission Act includes both the Commission's recommendations and elements from the oil spill response bill that passed the House last July. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have also indicated that they plan to introduce oil spill legislation in this Congress.
Bill Introduced to Strengthen Forensic Sciences. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation on January 25 aimed at strengthening and improving the quality of forensic evidence used in criminal courts and ensuring that forensic evidence is of the highest scientific integrity. The Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act (S.132) would establish oversight and advisory offices and committees supported and facilitated by the Department of Justice and the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST). In February 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that identified significant problems in the field of forensic sciences and called for the creation of a new agency to address these issues. Senator Leahy rejected the idea of a new agency, saying it would be too costly, and introduced this legislation as an a lternative.
House Examines Legislation to Limit Rulemaking. On January 24 the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Commercial and Administrative Law held a hearing on the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, HR 10. Introduced by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), the Act would require that every new major rule (defined as those with an annual impact greater than $100 million) proposed by federal agencies be approved via joint resolution passed by both House and Senate and signed by the President before it can take effect. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who had introduced similar legislation in the 111th Congress, plans to introduce the Senate version of the REINS Act. Supporters touted cost savings of $1.7 trillion and the ability to pull back the power of "unelected bureaucrats," while oppo nents no ted the constitutional issues that the bill raises regarding separation of powers.
NIH Plan for Translational Center Draws Some Fire. A New York Times article on the plan by the National Institutes of Health to create a new National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) characterized the unit as a drug development center designed "to help create medicines." That characterization caused such a negative reaction from the academic community (already nervous about the reorganization) and from policy-making communities that NIH created a special feature on its website to detail "Fact & Fiction" and submitted letters to key House and Senate chairmen explaining the goal and vision behind NCATS. The NIH website states that the NCATS is "not intended to be a drug company" and t hat ther e is no plan to "cannibalize" budgets of other institutes.
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Public/Private Partnership to Aid Entrepreneurs. On January 31 the White House announced the formation of Startup America Partnership, an alliance comprised of entrepreneurs, CEOs, university presidents, and foundations. The Partnership will work with the White House to help entrepreneurs grow businesses and spur economic growth, innovation, and jobs.
USDA Authorizes Cultivation of Genetically Modified Alfalfa. Backing off from a compromise plan he had proposed earlier, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced last week that he would approve unrestricted commercial cultivation of alfalfa containing a gene that makes it resistant to the herbicide Roundup. The decision comes after many years of controversy. USDA had initially approved growing GM alfalfa in 2005, but the approval was rescinded by a federal judge in response to lawsuits, pending preparation of an environmental impact statement. After the impact statement was released last month, Secretary Vilsack announced a compromise that would have restricted the areas where the modified alfalfa could be grown. Last week's decision was announced after the compromise was criticized at a congressional hearing and in public forums.
Administration Eases Travel to Cuba. On January 28 the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published a final rule governing travel between the United States and Cuba. The new rule will allow more airlines and airports to offer flights to Cuba and authorizes individuals and accredited institutions traveling to the country for educational or religious exchanges to travel utilizing a general license, a much easier process than previously.
Update: NM Climate Regulations to Move Ahead. The State Supreme Court has overruled newly-elected New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez' efforts to subvert a regulation to curtail the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 3% annually and another that would require dairies to control waste discharge (see January 10 Policy Alert). State regulations become final upon publication in the state's register, and Martinez had ordered a senior official at the state's records center not to publish the new regulations in the next issue, thereby apparently suspending the regulations taking effect. However, in a unanimous decision that noted "No one is above the law," the Court found that the rules must be published in the register, which will allow them to go into effect.
Intel Announces $100 Million Investment in Academic Research. Intel Corporation has announced that it will invest $100 million in university research over the next five years. The money will be used to establish multi-campus Intel Science and Technology Centers at a number of universities. Stanford University will be the hub for the first center, which will focus on visual computing. Future centers are planned with other areas that align with Intel's research agenda, including mobility, security, and embedded solutions.
"Nation's Report Card" Figures Released. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in science was administered in early 2009 to 308,000 fourth- and eighth-graders and 11,000 twelfth-graders by the Institute for Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. Results indicate that only about 1/3 of fourth graders and 1/5 of high school seniors can perform at the appropriate proficiency level. The test, which covers physical, life, earth, and space sciences, cannot be used for historical comparisons as it was modified since it was last administered in 2005.
GM Mosquitoes Released in Malaysia Field Test. Malaysia released 6,000 genetically modified male mosquitoes in a December field trial aimed at fighting dengue fever. When wild female Aedes aeqypti mosquitoes mate with the genetically modified males, the offspring either are not viable or have shorter lives. The test was criticized by some environmentalists, who fear the modified males could interact in unpredictable ways with other mosquito species in the wild or create a vacuum in the ecosystem that is filled by other insect species capable of introducing new diseases. Government authorities said they are conducting small-scale research and will not rush into any widespread release of mosquitoes. Genetically modified mosquitoes were released in much larger numbers last year in a 40-acre plot in the Cayman Islands , with the same goal of reducing the local mosquito population. The numbers reportedly have dropped there by 80%.
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