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House Passes COMPETES Bill and Sends it to the President

Richard M. Jones
Number 127 - December 22, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Yesterday afternoon House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) rose on the House floor to state, “Mr. Speaker, pursuant to House Resolution 1781, I call up the bill (H.R. 5116) to invest in innovation through research and development, to improve the competitiveness of the United States, and for other purposes, with the Senate amendment thereto, and I have a motion at the desk.”  With these words, Gordon started the final step in securing passage of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, and sending it to President Obama for his signature. 

The House’s consideration of H.R. 5116 took about an hour.  Gordon and House Science and Technology Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) each controlled half of the time.  Hall becomes the chairman of the Science Committee when the new Congress convenes in early January.  The House debate followed passage of this bill by the Senate on Friday.

Gordon began by citing the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, and spoke of efforts on both sides of the aisle and in both ends of the Capitol to draft this legislation.  He concluded his remarks by saying:

“I cannot think of anything I would rather be doing, on what is likely my final act on this House floor after 26 years of service, than sending this bill to the President's desk. It's important to me personally because I have a 9-year-old daughter, and if we do not want our children and grandchildren to inherit a national standard of living less than their parents, a reversal of the American Dream, we need to support research, foster innovation, and improve education.  

“The business community has urged us to pass this bill to support research, foster innovation, and improve education. The academic community has urged us to pass this bill to support research, foster innovation, and improve education. The scientific community has urged us to pass this bill to support research, foster innovation, and improve education. And every one of our colleagues in the Senate has agreed that this bill needs to be sent to the President's desk so the U.S. can support research, foster innovation, and improve education and create 21st century jobs.

“I urge my colleagues to stand with the business community, the academic community, the scientific community, and to send a strong message that the U.S. must maintain its scientific and economic leadership.”

Hall responded, outlining his continued opposition to the bill:

“I've stated on this floor a lot of times this year, I remain committed to the goals of the original America COMPETES . Unfortunately, the Senate omnibus language before us today includes a hodgepodge of so many extraneous measures that it is indeed most surprising that we are considering this five days before Christmas. Like the House-passed version, it continues to take us off track from what he set out to do, in a bipartisan fashion, more than five years ago.”

He continued:

“Men who are much smarter than me and whom I greatly respect, like Norm Augustine and Peter O'Donnell, Jr., have encouraged me to support this bill. But, Mr. Speaker, it is hard for me to say that I just can't support this version of COMPETES . If this Senate COMPETES amendment is defeated today, I pledge as the incoming chairman of the Science and Technology Committee to reintroduce the good, fiscally responsible pieces of this comprehensive legislation agency by agency and issue by issue, giving each individual piece the opportunity to be reviewed and voted on by every Member.   Science and technology are the fundamental movers of our economy, and if we want to remain globally competitive, this bill should be considered in smaller pieces and not on the last day of a lame duck congressional session.   Yes, our friends in the Senate have made it a 3-year reauthorization bill, and, yes, they have nearly cut the cost in half; but this $46 billion bill still contains $7.4 billion in new spending.”

Among those speaking in favor of the bill was Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI).  Ehlers is retiring from Congress, and he explained his support for the bill as follows:
  
 “Now, I know some of you are concerned about some aspects of the COMPETES Act as it is before us today. I share some of those concerns but certainly not all of them. But the basic point here is that, if we do not act, we are letting down the manufacturers of America. . . . .    I think it's very important that we recognize we are not going to compete successfully in the international marketplace unless we invest more money in research, research which is then used by manufacturers to develop new products and to make money and provide jobs.”

Joining Hall in expressing his opposition to the bill was Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) who will be the chairman of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight in the next Congress.  He told his colleagues:

“The Democrats are using this lame duck session to continue pursuing their rejected agenda. This is no different than a CEO being fired and continuing to make major decisions for the company that he was just fired from for another 2 months. We must stop this end-run around the electoral process and the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting further lame duck legislation.  Now, this COMPETES reauthorization is the perfect example of why we need to end lame duck legislation. It contains reckless spending and misguided policy initiatives. The closed-door process through which it was developed is irresponsible at a time when the Federal deficit has ballooned to $1.5 trillion, and our national debt will soon eclipse $14 trillion. These unprecedented figures are not deterring our Democratic colleagues from authorizing over $45 billion of spending, $7 billion of which is new spending in this bill.

“Beyond the out-of-control spending, a clear shift in policy priorities away from those envisioned in the original COMPETES process now exists in this bill.  When the National Academy of Sciences unveiled the  ‘Gathering Storm’ report in 2005, it identified funding for long-term basic research as the top priority for science and technology. Today's reauthorization emphasizes late-stage technology commercialization activities and beyond to manufacturing and construction activities, priorities that should not be the responsibility of the Federal Government.”

Rep. David Wu (D-OR), also a member of the Science Committee, described his support for the bill as follows:

“I'm particularly proud of the contribution that my subcommittee, the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee, has made to this legislation, because long-term investment in innovation is absolutely crucial to our Nation's global competitiveness, and we have a responsibility to support the kind of economic environment that empowers our Nation's private sector to innovate and create high-wage, private-sector jobs.  The bipartisan legislation that we are considering today will strengthen our Nation's economic competitiveness by helping to create an environment that encourages innovation and which facilitates growth.

“As the chairman rightfully pointed out, innovation accounted for greater than 50 percent of U.S. GDP growth from World War II to the year 2000, and innovation can help America grow our way out of our current anemic economic state.  Among other things, the bill makes crucial investments in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which will help us better address the needs of our Nation's small and medium-sized manufacturers.  The bill will also help ensure that students and trainees will have what is necessary to secure a good-paying job in their own community by requiring MEP centers to work with community colleges to train for the skills needed by local manufacturers.”

Among those who also voiced support for the bill was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who commented:

“. . . few have done more for this Congress than Chairman Bart Gordon, who recognized the urgency of this challenge early on and has never stopped fighting to keep science and technology at the top of our agenda. And to the distinguished ranking member, one of the beauties of this agenda, this innovation agenda, is there's really nothing partisan about it. It isn't ideological. It's scientific. It is about keeping America number one and using the best resources technologically in our country to have us be competitive in the world economy.”

The debate ended with brief closing remarks by Chairman Gordon and Ranking Member Hall.  When the roll call vote was taken, 228 representatives voted for passage, and 130 against.  No Democratic representative opposed the bill.  Sixteen Republican representatives voted for the bill, and the remainder were opposed.   

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095