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House Scheduled to Vote on COMPETES Bill Tomorrow

Richard M. Jones
Number 126 - December 20, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Tomorrow the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the latest version of H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010.   Although it was widely believed that the legislative clock had run out on this bill, the Senate, in an unanticipated move, took up and passed a new version of the COMPETES bill on Friday, and sent it back to the House for final passage.

On Friday, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) rose and using language that reflects long-standing Senate procedures, stated:

“Mr. President [of the Senate], as if in legislative session and morning business, I ask unanimous consent that the Commerce Committee be discharged from further consideration of H.R. 5116 and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration.”

In doing so, Bingaman initiated a procedure that only a few minutes later resulted in Senate passage of the bill. 

The only senator who spoke at length about H.R.5116 was Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) who told his colleagues:

 “I have heard from a broad coalition of universities, businesses, and educators in my home state of Massachusetts about the positive impact of the COMPETES Act on our economy. I have listened closely to my constituents' concerns and have concluded that reauthorization of this legislation is absolutely necessary to the long-term economic health of Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.”

He later added:

“Since arriving in the Senate I have carefully scrutinized every bill with our Nation's fiscal concerns in mind. The compromise struck in this reauthorization recognizes the fiscal climate of today while still making meaningful investments in our future. For example, the bill sunsets nine programs, eliminates several other duplicative programs, and includes an authorization level that is only half of the House's proposal.

“I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to join in supporting passage of the America COMPETES Act.”

Following Brown’s remarks, Bingaman stood and said:

“Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Rockefeller-Hutchison substitute amendment, which is at the desk, be agreed to, the bill, as amended, be read a third time, and that a budget pay-go statement be read.”

The Rockefeller-Hutchison substitute amendment is 18 pages long in Friday’s Congressional Record, and rewrites substantial portions of the House-passed version of H.R. 5116.  Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) is the Ranking Member.  Both voted for the bill when the committee approved it in July, with Hutchison stating that while she supported the bill, she believed it authorized too much spending.  In written remarks that day, Hutchison explained:

“While I appreciate the Chairman’s [Rockefeller] willingness to work with me to reduce the funding levels by about 10 percent from the measure introduced, I believe we will need to further adjust the funding levels before this bill can be joined with the Titles from the HELP [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] and Energy [and Natural Resources] Committees and pass the full Senate. We’ve come a long way in streamlining the bill, but we have more work to do. But I will certainly join in supporting the bill being reported today and look forward to helping move it through the legislative process in a bipartisan manner.”

The Senate-passed version responds to Hutchison’s and some of her colleagues’ concerns.  The new language authorizes spending for three years instead of five years as passed by the House, resulting in an almost 50 percent reduction in authorized spending.  Where the 2007 law called for a doubling of the budgets of the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science, and NIST research programs in seven years, the Senate bill would accomplish this objective in ten years.  The bill’s authorization amounts for FY 2011, 2012, and 2013 are higher than the FY 2010 appropriations, with increases, for instance, ranging between 5.1 percent and 7.0 percent for the three agencies from FY2011 and FY2012.

This rewriting of the bill worked in the Senate.  Using a legislative procedure that all senators must agree to, H.R. 5116 was passed using a unanimous consent agreement.  After reference to a Congressional Budget Office review of the legislation, Bingaman stood and said:

“Mr. President [of the Senate], I ask unanimous consent that the bill be passed, the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate, and any statements related to the bill be printed in the Record.”

The Presiding Officer replied, “Without objection, it is so ordered,” and with that, the bill was passed and sent back to the House which now must vote on the Senate version of the bill.

Later that day, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon released the following statement on the bill:

“The Reauthorization passed [the science] committee on April 28 with bipartisan support, it passed the House on May 26th with bipartisan support, and now, the Senate has weighed in and approved it -- unanimously.
“While there have been concessions made, the Senate’s amendments preserve the intent of the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report and the original COMPETES. It keeps our basic research agencies on a doubling path, it continues to invest in high-risk, high-reward energy technology development, it will help improve STEM education, and it will help unleash American innovation.
“I am hopeful that this will come up before the House next week.  I urge my House colleagues to stand with the business community, the academic community, the scientific community, and the Senate to send a strong message that the U.S. must maintain its scientific and economic leadership.
“I cannot think of anything I would rather do as one of my final acts in Congress than sending this bill, with strong bipartisan support, to the president’s desk.”

H.R. 5116 is scheduled for House action tomorrow.    

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics