Friday, May 28, 2010

House Passes Competitiveness Bill After Near-Collapse

By Teryn Norris
Cross-posted from Americans for Energy Leadership

Today, the House of Representatives passed the flagship U.S. competitiveness and innovation legislation, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (full text and summary), by a vote of 262 to 150. The House Science & Technology (S&T) Committee press release is here and a full breakdown of the vote is here, including 245 Democrats and 17 Republicans in favor, 0 Democrats and 150 Republicans opposed.

The passage comes after the proposal was blocked twice within the past two weeks on the House floor, triggering significant alarm among the science and technology community. The first incident on May 13th involved a "Motion to Recommit" attached to an anti-pornography amendment, introduced by S&T Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX), which forced many members to vote to send the bill back to committee. The second incident on May 19th occurred when the bill failed to reach the two-thirds majority required under procedures that were used, despite the inclusion of the anti-pornography amendment and a cut in the authorization level by nearly 50 percent.

Today, House S&T Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) used a rare procedure called a division of the question, which allowed separate votes on various parts of the amendment included in the May 13th Motion to Recommit. This effectively allowed the House to pass the bill with a standard majority vote, and the original bill was passed with a few amendments, including total authorization at five years and approximately $86 billion. This authorizes the continued doubling of budgets for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and National Institute of Standards and Technology, and includes new authorization levels for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, Energy Innovation Hubs, the higher education component of the RE-ENERGYSE proposal, and more.

"I am disappointed that my Democratic colleagues resorted to using a procedural tactic to defeat Republican changes that would have saved over $40 billion and restored the original COMPETES priority of basic research," said Representative Hall in a statement. "While I am glad we were finally able to reauthorize many of the important research and education programs in this bill, the bill that passed today spends too much money, authorizes duplicative programs, and shifts focus away from the bill's original intent."

The revival of America COMPETES constitutes a victory for science and technology advocates, however, Senator authorization and eventual appropriations will be significant challenges. Regardless, the rare procedural tactics necessary to overcome such partisanship and over-dramatized budget concerns -- even with such high-profile competitiveness legislation that will drive significant technology innovation, high-tech job creation, and long-term economic growth -- represents a clear and alarming example of how U.S. technological leadership could be increasingly threatened in the years ahead, as I noted in a recent article. Building the economic and political case for a strong national innovation system backed by major federal investment, and directly challenging the anti-government and neoliberal orthodoxy that continues to limit effective innovation policy, must gain renewed urgency if we are to build upon today's outcome.

2 comments:

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Aaron said...

The America COMPETES is a good step for our law makers. Energy policy, in my opinion, should be at the top of the list for our members of congress. Considering what America spends on health and defense each year, if energy reform had the same type of serious focus (and it should) I believe that this country would have a tremendous opportunity to not only strengthen our economy, but reshape the industry for the better.

-Consumer Energy Alliance
"A balanced approach towards America's energy future"