The United States House of Representatives has failed twice in the past two weeks to pass legislation that would reauthorize the America COMPETES Act. The legislation, which proponents contend would stimulate innovation and improve science education by increasing funding authorizations for federal agencies that support basic research, was first brought to the House floor on 13 May 2010. After consideration of more than 50 amendments, Science Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) moved to send the bill (HR 5116) back to the Science Committee. Halls’ motion to recommit the legislation included instructions to cut $47.5 billion in authorizations over the next five years for the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy Office of Science (DoE Science), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and to completely eliminate funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Additionally, Hall wanted to ban the use of funds to pay the salaries of federal employees who have been disciplined for viewing pornography at work. In recent years, at least seven NSF employees were fired or disciplined for watching pornography on government computers.
Hall’s motion passed overwhelmingly in a 292-126 vote, which included the support of more than 120 Democrats. Only one Republican, Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), a physicist who is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, voted against the motion. Democratic leadership quickly pulled the bill from further consideration on the House floor, allowing them time to consider their next move.
A week later, the bill’s sponsor, Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), reintroduced the COMPETES Act, now numbered HR 5325, with two significant changes. Gordon cut the duration of research authorizations from five years to three years, although he left the funding levels unchanged, maintaining the doubling path established in the 2007 COMPETES Act. Additionally, HR 5325 includes an anti-pornography provision that would prevent funds authorized by the act to be used to pay the salary of any government employee caught watching porn at work. Despite these changes, the House once again failed to pass the bill on 19 May 2010 when it was considered on the Suspension Calendar, a move that requires that legislation be passed by a 2/3 majority. The final vote of 261 to 148 fell nearly thirty votes shy of the threshold for passage. Unlike the previous vote on COMPETES, Democrats stuck together, with no members of the majority party voting against the legislation. Additionally, 15 Republications voted for passage of the bill.
“I’m disappointed, but not deterred,” said Rep. Gordon. Gordon and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the bill will soon return to the House floor.
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