House Passes Reauthorization of America COMPETES Bill

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Publication date: 
1 June 2010

“Mr. Speaker, I demand a division of the question on the adoption of the amendment to enable the separate votes” declared House Science and Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) last Friday.  For the third time, the America COMPETES reauthorization bill was before the House.  About an hour after Gordon made his demand, H.R. 5116 passed the House by a vote of 262 to 150.

The procedure that Gordon called for essentially untied the package of proposed changes that House Science and Technology Committee Ranking Republican Member Ralph Hall (TX) had used to stop the legislation when the House first considered it on May 13.  Just before the House was to vote on the bill, Hall used a House procedure to send the legislation back to the Science Committee with instructions on how it should be rewritten.  Hall’s package of changes included a three-year freeze in the authorization levels for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  It also reduced the authorization period from five years to three years, eliminated the authorization for several new programs in the bill, and added a new veterans’ benefit.  Hall’s package also included a provision to prohibit the payment of salaries to employees of the Executive Branch for viewing, downloading, or exchanging pornography on a Federal Government computer or “while performing official Federal Government duties.”  In describing the pending vote on Hall’s motion, Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) described the choice facing Members: “If you think a couple of days of suspension, a reprimand, a transfer is the right response when someone uses government computers to spread pornography, then vote against this motion. But if you think spreading pornography with a government computer is an act that should lead to dismissal, then vote for this motion. I urge a vote for this motion.”Hall’s motion passed by a vote of 292 to 126.

A new version of the bill went back before the House using a streamlined procedure on May 19.   The bill’s price tag was reduced by 50 percent by changing the authorization period from five years to three years.  It also included a pornography provision.  This procedure required a 2/3 majority vote to pass.  While the vote was 261 to 148, the bill failed to secure enough votes for passage.

Last Friday the House met at 9:00 A.M., and completed its consideration of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act. Just before 2:00 P.M., it was announced that the House would resume its proceedings on H.R. 5116 – the original bill with the five-year authorization period.  Following brief floor procedures, Gordon moved what is called “a division of the question.”  This procedure allowed House Members to vote on each part of the amendment contained in Hall’s May 13 Motion to Recommit.  A division of the question has been part of the House Rules since 1789 and has been used during consideration of authorization and appropriations measures and in impeachment proceedings.

There was no debate when the House resumed its proceedings on H.R. 5116.  Gordon’s move divided Hall’s amendment in the Motion to Recommit into nine portions.  On three of these, the House voted to retain the original bill language regarding federal loan guarantees, regional innovation clusters, and Energy Innovation Hubs.

Roll call votes were demanded on the other portions, as follows:

Roll call vote 326 was to strike a new National Science Foundation prize award.  The House voted 175 yes to 243 no, resulting in the retention of the prize award in the bill.

Roll call vote 327 was to remove a provision in the bill authorizing an Innovative Services Initiative at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  This failed by a vote of 163 to 244.

Roll call vote 328 was to provide special consideration for disabled veterans.  This portion failed by a vote of 197 to 215.

Roll call vote 329 was approved unanimously to prohibit the payment of salaries to federal employees who view pornography while performing official government duties.

Roll call vote 330 would prohibit federal funding to institutions of higher learning if they deny or restrict campus access to ROTC or military recruiting.  The House agreed to add this portion to the bill by a vote of 348 to 68.

The next roll call vote, 331, encapsulated much of the discussion there had been about future science spending in the Science Committee and on the House floor.  This portion would have reduced the authorization period from five years to three years.  Of note, it would have frozen the authorization levels for NSF, NIST, and the DOE Office of Science at current levels for FY 2011, 2012, and 2013.  The House rejected this by a vote of 181 to 234.  There were 181 Members voting for this portion, twelve of whom were Democrats and the rest of which were Republicans.  A total of 234 Members voted against this portion: 233 Democrats and one Republican - Rep. Vern Ehlers (MI).

The final roll call vote, 332, was to pass the bill.  There were 150 Members voting against passage of the bill, all of whom were Republicans.  Seventeen Republicans joined 245 Democrats in voting to pass the bill.

The Republican and Democratic sides of the House Science and Technology Committee issued press releases after the passage of H.R. 5116.  Ranking Member Hall commented:

“I am disappointed that my Democratic colleagues resorted to using a procedural tactic to defeat Republican changes that would have saved over $40 billion and restored the original COMPETES priority of basic research.  While I am glad we were finally able to reauthorize many of the important research and education program in this bill, the bill that passed today spends too much money, authorizes duplicative programs, and shifts focus away from the bill’s original intent.”

Chairman Gordon stated:

“As I’ve said before, this bill is too important to let fall by the wayside.  Today, we took the action necessary to see consideration of this bill completed.  And we allowed the Members of the House to be on record voting on provisions gutting funding for our science agencies, voting on whether we should eliminate programs that will help create jobs, voting on whether to eliminate programs that will make us more energy independent, voting in opposition to federal employees watching pornography, and voting on whether universities that ban military recruiters should receive federal research dollars.  We have provided all Members, in a reasonable manner, with the ability to vote on each of these items separately instead of all together.”