Election 2004: How will it impact Congress?

Republicans expanded their lead in both the House and Senate in the general elections on Tuesday. Republicans now control 231 seats in the House and 55 seats in the Senate. While Republicans are pleased with the gains, they acknowledge that they still lack 60 votes in the Senate and a comfortable majority in the House. However, they see this election as a view of things to come in future elections and see a clear majority for years to come within reach. Democrats, on the other hand, point to the historical trend that the party not in the White House have picked up an average of 29 House and 6 Senate seats in a President's sixth year in office (which will be 2006 for President Bush).

One of the seats lost by the Democrats was that of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). Former representative Jim Thune ousted Daschle in a tight race. It's been over fifty years since a Senate leader has been defeated in election: in 1952, Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater defeated then Senate Majority Leader Ernest McFarland (D). It seems all but certain that Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) will replace Sen. Tom Daschle. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) had considered challenging Reid, but decided against it because he feared a heated contest would be "very harmful for our party at this juncture."

The expanded majority of the Republican party will impact committee assignments. The Senate had been operating with a one-seat edge for the Republicans. The last time the Republicans held a 55-seat majority, the committees were structured with a two-seat edge for Republicans on each committee. In addition to determining the number of seats, a parties majority also determines the share of funding for staff. The Senate has been operating close to a 50-50 split since the 2000 election that resulted in an evenly split Senate. The larger majority for the Republicans could result in a loss of Democratic staff on committees. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and the new Senate Minority Leader will negotiate these issues (number of seats, committee funding) as part of the chamber's reorganization this winter.

The election results are also likely to affect Congress' plans for the remainder of the 108th session. Congress left intelligence reform and the majority of the federal appropriations bills unfinished before the election. Both chambers will reconvene in mid-November for a lame duck session. According to Roll Call, Republican congressional leaders plan to finish only what is necessary during the lame duck, so they can tackle other issues with larger majorities next year. Among the appropriations bills to finish is the VA-HUD bill, which funds the National Science Foundation. There is a difference of $278 million between the House and Senate funding marks for NSF. The Senate was able to fund NSF at a higher level by designating other expenses in the VA-HUD bill as "emergency" spending, which allows them to exceed budget caps. The White House and the House Appropriations Committee are insisting that the Senate "give up some of its $8 billion gimmicks," in which case the funding for NSF and other science agencies would be closer to the lower marks given by the House. AIBS will continue to track and provide updates on research funding levels for FY2005.

USGS Coalition sends letter to FY 05 Interior Appropriations conferees

Prior to the general election, the USGS Coalition sent a letter to House and Senate Interior appropriations conferees. The letter thanked members of the House for the strong support they demonstrated for the USGS in HR 4568. In a separate letter to Senate conferees, the USGS Coalition again thanked them for their strong advocacy on behalf of USGS science and, particularly, for including language in the report (Senate Report 108-341) that accompanies the Senate version of the Interior appropriations bill that strongly questioned administration proposed cuts to the United States Geological Survey budget. The USGS Coalition further requested that Senate conferees strive to accept, at a minimum, funding levels proposed by the House. Briefly, while the Senate was able to provide the USGS with $939.5 million in FY 05 funding, the House would provide the USGS with $944 million, which would restore $18 million in proposed budget cuts and provide $ 7 million in new funding.

Interested scientists may wish to contact their Senators to request that the Senate accept the House fiscal year 2005 funding level of $944 million for the United States Geological Survey, and provide any additional funding possible to ensure that USGS core biological, geological, geospatial, and hydrological science functions may continue to provide public and private sector decision makers with the high-quality data they require. Individuals living in Montana and North Dakota are encouraged to contact Senators Burns (R-MT) and Dorgan (D-ND) - chairman and ranking member, respectively - of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senator Conrad Burns
187 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-2644
Fax: 202-224-8594
Website: www.burns.senate.gov

Senator Byron L. Dorgan
713 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: 202-224-2551
Fax: 202-224-1193

California voters approve $3 billion stem cell research initiative

On November 2, 2004, California voters overwhelming approved a statewide initiative, Proposition 71, to establish the "California Institute for Regenerative Medicine." Approved by 59 percent of the voters, the Institute will regulate stem cell research and provide funding through grants and loans to support research and research facilities in the state conducting stem cell research. The Institute will be funded through the sale of $3 billion in general obligation bonds. Many Proposition 71 supporters think that the California's ultimate cost for this new research program will be defrayed by unforeseeable financial benefits accruing to the state from patents, royalties resulting from the research.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine will receive (in 2005) an initial start-up loan of $3 million dollars. The established Institute will be in charge of awarding grants and loans for stem cell research with a $300 million annual budget, guaranteed for 10 years. Roughly 94 percent of this annual budget will go directly to sponsoring scientific research. The remaining 6 percent will cover administrative costs. The Institute will be governed by a 29-member Independent Citizen's Oversight Committee, comprised of both the academic and political sectors. Proposition 71 not only establishes a stem cell research community but it also makes such research a state constitutional right. It will allow scientists to create new embryos in labs using a process called "nuclear transfer technology" or therapeutic cloning. Currently, the federal government has limited stem cell research to spare frozen embryos or previously established cell lines.

This is the largest-ever state-supported scientific research program, and the first time voters have been able to decide to invest their tax dollars in a specific type of research. New Jersey may allocate $5 million dollars for stem cell research next year, and a few other states have passed "safe harbor" legislation to allow stem cell research to be carried out. Though most of the scientific community supports the newly approved stem cell research legislation, some are wary of allowing voters to set research priorities.

USFS launches national initiative to combat invasive species

On October 28, 2004, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (USFS) announced its national strategy to "prevent and control the threat of invasive species and non-native plants in the United States." According to USFS officials, the action is part of the President's Healthy Forests Initiative to restore forest and rangeland health and protect communities from wildland fire and supports the President's Executive Order promoting cooperative conservation.

According to Mark Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, "Millions of acres of public and private lands are at risk from non-native species. Each year the United States loses 1.7 million acres to the spread of these invasives, in addition to spending billions of dollars on control measures." USFS estimates that 70 million acres of public and private lands are at serious risk from 26 insects and diseases nationwide, most of which are non-native. The USFS considers species as invasive if they are non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and if their introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Rey further stated, "This national strategy will help to prevent, find and contain the spread while working to rehabilitate and restore ecosystems."

The "National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species Management" is based on four elements: preventing invasive species before they arrive; finding new infestations before they spread and establish; containing and reducing existing infestations; and, rehabilitating and restoring native habitats and ecosystems.

To learn more about the USFS National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species Management, visit www.fs.fed.us. For more information about all federal efforts to combat invasive species, visit www.invasivespecies.gov.

New in BioScience: America's Oldest Science Agency Gets a Facelift

The November 2004 BioScience Washington Watch column is now available. "With an annual research budget of approximately $600 million (including $150 million for extramural research), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is one of the government's largest supporters of environmental research. It's also the oldest: By executive order in 1970, the long-established US Coast and Geodetic Survey (formed in 1807), the Weather Bureau (1870), and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (1871) were combined, earning the resulting organization the title of "America's oldest science agency." And with age comes the need for maintenance." continue reading»


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