Now that the November elections are over, attention has finally turned to the looming fiscal cliff. Congressional leaders, President Obama, and their aides have been meeting to negotiate a potential deal to prevent tax increases and $109 billion in federal spending reductions that will commence in January.
Last week, Congressional Republicans swiftly rejected a plan offered by the Obama administration. The White House proposal would increase tax revenues by $1.6 trillion over a decade by allowing tax breaks for the wealthy to expire and by raising taxes on capital gains and dividend income. Notably, the proposal would also postpone for one year the automatic federal spending cuts scheduled to begin in January. Cuts, however, would be made to federal health care programs. Republican lawmakers denounced the framework for being too similar to President Obama’s budget proposal for 2013. Democrats responded by calling for the other party to produce a detailed plan of their own.
Despite the stalemate, leaders of both political parties have expressed a desire to prevent the looming tax hike on the middle class. A major sticking point, however, has been whether or not to allow the tax breaks to expire for wealthy Americans. Another point of contention is the expanding costs of entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Recently, some senior Democrats in the Senate have spoken out against a deal that would cut such social programs.
Although the negotiations are still in the early stages, some lawmakers anticipate that the short time frame before the fiscal cliff will necessitate a two-phase solution. A down payment of spending cuts could be agreed to and enacted during the lame duck, with larger, more encompassing fiscal reforms-including an overhaul of the tax system-to follow next year. This would have the effect of forestalling a fall off the fiscal cliff, and would help to alleviate fears in the business community that may already be negatively impacting the economy.
House Republicans were busy last week determining who will lead the chamber’s twenty-five committees in the next Congress. Although some chairmen will retain their positions, changes are in store for at least one committee with jurisdiction over science.
Notably, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will have a new leader next year. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) won a three-way race for the spot that will be vacated by Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), who is facing a term limit as chairman under his party’s rules. Smith currently chairs the Judiciary Committee, but is also facing a term limit. Smith has served on the science panel since he was first elected to Congress in 1986. The committee oversees non-defense federal research and development, including the National Science Foundation.
“As Chairman of the Science Committee, I will be an advocate for America’s innovators by promoting legislation that encourages scientific discoveries, space exploration, and the application of new technologies to expand our economy and create jobs for American workers,” said Rep. Smith in a statement. The congressman has been active in patent reform and space policy.
Among the committee leaders who will retain their posts is Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY). Rogers chairs the Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for allocating federal funding on an annual basis. In a statement, Rogers highlighted the committee’s efforts to reduce spending by almost $100 billion during his tenure over the last two years: “I look forward to continuing this important work on behalf of the American people, making the necessary strides to get the nation’s finances on track, reducing unnecessary government spending, and investing in important programs that will benefit the nation both now and in the future.”
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) will also retain his position as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over legislation that addresses energy production, management of oceans and public lands, and conservation of fish and wildlife. “By protecting and unlocking access to our public lands and resources, we can keep and create jobs here in America, create new sources of revenue, and protect the livelihoods of millions of Americans,” said Hastings. “We’ll continue to advance policies that boost offshore and onshore energy production; promote a balanced, multi-use approach to public land management; protect hydropower; expand water storage and supplies; encourage economic growth on tribal lands; protect wildlife and cut government red tape.”
Leadership of the Agriculture and Energy and Commerce Committees will also stay the same in the new Congress. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) will serve a second term as chairman of the Agriculture Committee. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) will also continue to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee.
House Democrats have not yet selected their committee leadership.
Immigration reform for foreign graduates who earn advanced degrees in science took one step closer to realization on Friday. The House of Representatives passed a slightly modified version of a bill the chamber had failed to pass earlier this fall. HR 6429 passed with bipartisan support 245 to 139.
The bill would take 55,000 visas currently awarded lottery-style by the diversity immigrant program and redirect them to foreign graduates who have earned advanced science degrees at U.S. universities, thereby eliminating the diversity program. Preference would be given to those holding a doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, and remaining visas would go to Master’s degree-holders.
An earlier version of the GOP House bill was rejected in September. It failed to pass with the necessary two-thirds majority (290 votes), despite picking up 30 Democrats for a total of 257 votes. The Rules Committee, however, decided only a simple majority was necessary for Friday’s vote, a threshold easily met.
New language in the bill would make it easier for family members of visa holders to move to the U.S. while they wait for green cards of their own, and would cut their present waiting period of two years in half.
“This is the first step forward toward doing something concrete and delivering results on immigration reform,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Republicans claim to be serious about pursuing immigration changes in the wake of an election in which nearly three-quarters of Hispanic voters preferred President Obama to candidate Mitt Romney. Differences may arise in approach, however, as Democrats support bigger changes as part of a comprehensive system overhaul, and Republicans would rather take a “step-by-step” approach endorsed by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH).
The bill’s prospects in the Senate are weak, at least during the limited-time of the lame duck session. Moreover, Senate Democrats have expressed reservations about the details of the bill and about the GOP’s piecemeal approach to immigration reform. A White House official offered a similar statement: “we support expansion of STEM visas in general as part of a broader immigration reform, but any legislation that moves should be part of a balanced approach to fixing the immigration system, and this proposal does not meet that standard.”
There is broad support by universities and businesses for retaining more U.S. trained STEM scientists.
University spending on research and development (R&D) continued to increase from fiscal year (FY) 2010 to 2011, reaching $65 billion. This is an increase of 6.3 percent from FY 2010 (4.3 percent after adjusting for inflation), according to data from the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey. Much of the increase was due to $4.2 billion in federal funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Another $533 million in increased expenditures was due to an increase in the number of universities surveyed.
Among non-federal funding sources, only non-profit organizations and academic institutions themselves contributed more in FY 2011 than in FY 2010; funding by state and local government, business, and other sources remained almost static.
Of the broad academic categories surveyed, the life sciences accounted for the largest portion of spending, which increased 6.6 percent to $37.2 billion in FY 2011. The majority of that funding ($20.4 billion) went to medical fields. Engineering was responsible for the next largest portion of university R&D spending, showing a 7.7 percent increase to $10 billion. Environmental sciences increased to $3.2 billion (5.8 percent increase). Funding in non-science and engineering, including fields such as education, law, business, and communications, rose rapidly to $3.2 billion, a 10.5 percent increase.
Of the institutions surveyed, the top thirty universities, as far as R&D expenditures, accounted for 40.1 percent of total academic R&D spending. The universities comprising that group remained virtually unchanged from FY 2010 to FY 2011. Only the University of Southern California left the group, moving from position 28 to 31, and Harvard ascended into the top thirty institutions.
The full report and survey results can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf13305/.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2013 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award. This award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy. Recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy.
The 2013 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or a closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.
Applications are due by 5:00 PM Eastern Time on Monday, 28 January 2013. The award application can be downloaded at http://www.aibs.org/public-policy/eppla.html.
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