BREAKING: Republicans derail the COMPETES act

By Phil Plait | May 19, 2010 7:25 pm

In a 261-148 vote that went almost exactly along party lines, the America COMPETES act was defeated. Over $40 billion dollars was designated in that bill to go toward science and technology innovation, and to provide a lot of jobs to meet our nation’s needs for the future.

As I wrote earlier, Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX) added language to the bill basically forcing Democrats to withdraw — by adding a provision that punishes people who used government computers to view pornography. The Democrats backed down, putting the bill back in Committee, which accepted the new language and further compromised with the Republicans by cutting back funding from five years down to three… which was on top of already cutting back spending about 10%. The cutback by two years dropped the funding from about $85B down to $47B, but apparently even that wasn’t enough.

Every Democrat in the House voted for the bill, but only 15 Republicans (fewer than 10%) joined them. The bill got a simple majority, but needed to get a 2/3 majority to pass — that was a gamble by the Democrats; it was the only way to bring it to a vote without having the Republicans change the language yet again. After acquiescing to the demands of the Republicans I imagine it seemed like a fair bet.

It wasn’t. And the Republicans defeated an important and necessary authorization of funding.

Lest you think I’m not being fair, here is a quote from the House Science Committee page:

Over 750 organizations endorsed reauthorization of COMPETES, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, the Council on Competitiveness, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the National Venture Capital Association, TechAmerica, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the American Chemical Society, and others, including nearly 100 universities and colleges.

There is still some hope, though. According to the AP (via Talking Points Memo):

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement that he was "extremely disappointed Republicans continued to play political games, voting against a job-creating measure that had bipartisan support." He said he planned to bring the bill back to the floor soon under normal rules requiring only a majority for passage.

I am not sure how that can be done once a measure has been voted down, and unfortunately Congressional offices on the east coast are closed as I write this. I’ll see if I can find out more on Thursday (unless someone knows how and can comment below).

I have friends who were (are? I can still hope it’s "are") depending on this funding to continue to educate the next generation of scientists. I certainly hope the House Democrats find a way to get this bill back to the Floor, get it passed so that funding is reauthorized, and in this way make sure our country has a chance to continue to stand tall in the world when it comes to our scientific capabilities.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics

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