BREAKING: Third time's a charm, Congress passes science act

By Phil Plait | May 29, 2010 8:37 am

uscapitolAfter Republicans twice stalled it, the America COMPETES Act was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 262-150.


I have the history of this bill outlined in an earlier post. It failed the first time it went to vote because a Republican Congressman used some shameful politics to derail it, and the second time because to bring the Act to the House Floor for a vote, the Democratic majority had to put it in to pass with a 2/3 majority. Too many Republicans still voted against it, claiming it was too much spending.

That, to be blunt, is garbage. This Act makes sure we have enough money funding science and technology to grow our economy. Not passing it would be like eating your seed corn. As Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says,

"It shouldn’t take three votes to pass legislation to support the research vital to long term economic growth. If half of economic growth in the last half century is attributable to technological developments and innovations, then we can’t afford to presume that U.S. leadership in innovation is a given. If we intend to lead the global economy, we must tend to our innovation infrastructure, as this bill does."

This bill will continue the funding of the first Act, which was passed with broad bipartisan support under the Bush Administration (when Congress still had a Republican majority as well) in 2007. This time, to get it passed, the Democrats did something clever (I know):

When consideration resumed, Chairman Gordon moved a division of the question on the amendment included in the Republican Motion to Recommit passed by the House on May 13. This effort allowed the House to consider and vote separately on several parts of the Motion to Recommit.

Ha! This "division of the question" forced Congressmen to vote separately on the amendments added last time to scuttle the bill, so they are on record. This is clever because the first time the Republicans sank the bill, they did so by adding an amendment forbidding salaries to be paid to government employees who downloaded porn. The only way to vote on the bill would have been to kill that amendment, so then the noise machine (cough cough Fox cough) could say the Democrats voted to pay people who surf porn on government machines*.

By forcing this amendment-by-amendment vote, the Democrats could vote for the porn amendment, shutting down the right-wing machine before it can even get started. Even so, I’ll note that only 17 out of 167 Republicans voting voted to pass the bill. Every Democrat voted to pass it, and every single one of the 150 no votes came from the right.


The bottom line is, I am very happy this finally passed. It will fund a lot of science research as well as educational efforts for the next few years. As Rep. Holt points out, science always pays off far more than you invest, always. America will be better off and stronger because of this.

* See? I told you it was shameful.

Image credit: kevindooley’s Flickr photostream, used under the Creative Commons license.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics, Science

Comments (57)

  1. schism

    America will be better off and stronger because of this…

    …until 2012, when some Tea Party fanatic gets into office and merrily continues demolishing everything.

  2. Adam English
  3. Jason

    Was this bill exempted from PayGo? Or will it be offset by cuts elsewhere or tax increases?
    If exempted from PayGo can the Government Really afford to just dump a few billion more onto the deficit?

  4. Messier Tidy Upper

    Good news -glad to hear it. :-)

    So the gubmint folks can still safely enjoy their computer porn at work now too! ? 😉
    (Jokin, joking!)

    @ 1. schism Says:

    …until 2012, when some Tea Party fanatic gets into office and merrily continues demolishing everything.

    Honestly, I don’t think the Tea Party phenomena will last that long. Two years is a very long time in politics and a lot can happen before the next US presidential election. I certainly hope not. I doubt Sarah Palin or another ignorant loon will be in the running for Republican candidacy 2012. I hope not. Sadly, I could be wrong of course.

  5. Pi-needles

    If I were superstitious – which I’m not – I’d say its been third time lucky! 😉

    As I’m not, I’ll just heave a sigh of relief and wonder why this legislation that so self-evidently needed to be passed had such a struggle making it through the gauntlet of congresscritters.. :-(

  6. Cindy

    Rush Holt is my congressman and he’s got a Ph.D. in Physics and used to work at Princeton Plasma Labs. He certainly understands the need to fund science education.

  7. Remember, it’s these types of people who think monitoring volcanoes is a waste of money. Until a volcano erupts in their backyard, then it’s the governments fault for not monitoring it.

  8. Gary Ansorge

    5. Pi

    Most such struggles have to do with Repub pork. I expect not enough money in the bill was specifically dedicated to bribing,,,er,,,encouraging,,,Repubs.

    ,,,but then, I’m something of a cynic when it comes to partisan politics.

    We invest roughly 1.5 percent of our GDP in research and development. As I recall, Switzerland invests about three times that amount. Which is why they can afford their “socialist” systems.

    GAry 7

  9. Republicans represent everything wrong with this country. They don’t believe in progress. They don’t believe in equal opportunity. All they believe in is abuse of power. They will do anything they can to increase their own political power and the power of their corporate masters. They seriously make me sick.

    Please, America, stop voting for Republicans.

  10. Hurray!

    Really good saturday breakfast news!

  11. Ray

    Phil, where does the money come from to pay for it? We’ve already got a trillion dollar deficit, why are you applauding yet more spending?

  12. Adam English

    Ray, you can’t bring progress to a halt just because of some debt. We have made a lot of money, and jobs, from opening up new fields of research and new technology.

  13. I can think of many programs that could use a cut that would fund this easily. Take the C-130s that the AF didn’t want that Sen Hatch insisted they buy because it would benefit his district. And there is more pork like that (F-35 alternative engine for instance).

    EDIT TO ADD: Found this web page: They claim $16Billion is plain pork…

  14. Adam English

    Haha there is tons of stuff to cut…but as with most governments (Greece being a shining example right now) when it comes time to cut spending you always trim important services and other people’s paychecks before you have to give up your yacht…

  15. Thom

    @ 10. Ray:

    We could cut back a little on our military spending, considering that it represents over 40% of the world’s military spending.

  16. Daniel J. Andrews

    And US politics continues to baffle me. What is it with Republicans and their distrust of anything ‘sciencey’? Don’t they understand it isn’t spending, but an investment that will pay dividends in the future? And that political attack ad last week (a politician was accused of believing in evolution! How heinous a crime) that shows just how entwined religion and politics have become is just another jaw-dropper for us outsiders.

    I don’t think such extensive divisions exist in Canada but depressingly enough this week there were two letters to the editors on separate topics in separate papers from people blaming all the country’s woes on the liberal lefties and those they voted for. Thought for sure they’d use the c-word (communist) but they didn’t. I can only hope those two letter writers don’t meet and start breeding prolifically…we don’t need more loonies who embrace their political party with all the fervour of a religious fundamentalist embracing his peculiar interpretation of various scriptures.

    Anyway, very disturbing trends. Maybe you’re used to it since you’ve lived with it since birth, but to people outside the US, we actually find it rather scary.

    [quick edit: we’re seeing more antiscience/oil business-at-any-cost up here in government now with two of Harper’s antiscience friends in charge of distributing, get this, NSERC funding. If you want to study Arctic ecology or climate prepare to get funding drastically cut or not get funding at all. But want funding on how to obtain more oil, locate more mineral deposits….siighhh]

  17. Larry

    I bet them rich, elite scientists waste our money on fruit fly research and volcano monitoring.


  18. Sili

    Phil, where does the money come from to pay for it? We’ve already got a trillion dollar deficit, why are you applauding yet more spending?

    Exactly. What’s a few billion more?

    These at least have the potential to pay off, unlike the tax cuts. It’s an investment.

  19. Crudely Wrott

    “Division of the question.”

    Divide and conquer, eh? Good idea.

    I am gratified that good sense has prevailed and this Act has been passed. And I equally glad that this useful tool is part of the process.

  20. Daffy

    When George W. Bush took office, the Republicans controlled all 3 branches of government…and the deficits SKYROCKETED, along with blatant corruption. And now they want to keep claiming they are the party of fiscal responsibility. I ‘d like to say it’s an insult to anyone with half a brain…but the truth is a majority of Americans seem to be buying it.

    As always, one wonders whether to laugh or cry.

  21. disgusted with the GOP

    If the Democrats are smart, they will use this tactic all the time to FORCE Rethugs to show us what they really want…. that is, this will compel Rethugs to go on the record with each amendment and how they voted. It’s best to have a little sunshine on what is, for the rest of us, a fairly dark and murky form of Republican hypocrisy.

    Then, GOP constituents (if they are smart and not brain-dead from drinking the Konservative Kool-aid) could actually ASK their congresscritter and senator, “Why did you vote against extending unemployment benefits?” or “why did you vote against something that would help a majority of americans (whatever that something would be)?” And, then Mr. GOP (and it’s usually a Mr because the GOP can’t handle intelligent women) would have to hook his thumb around his suspenders and poke his opulent belly out and say “Well, yah see heah, I was votin’ agin PORN, you hear me PORN, right here in River city…” and then the constituents could ask, “Well, that may be what you thought you were doing, but why were you silent when other GOP people got caught in a sex club in XXX city? And what does this have to do with doing what you claimed to do when you were elected — that is, HELP your constituents?”

    And so, if we kept questioning the GOP “faithful” who do one thing but say another, perhaps some progress could be made. Or at least, these hypocritical politicoes of the right could be made to feel accountable for their actions (or lack there0f)….


    nah… never happen.

    But, a person can dream, right?

  22. I agree with Daffy. If any of them had any principles, they’d have voted against it because _it’s illegal under the US Constitution_, which doesn’t give Congress the power to pass any such law. Of course, if any of them had any respect for the Constitution they’d never have made it into Congress in the first place…

  23. So, the Republicans have now voted against a bill which would ban paying people who watch porn at work (among other things). Expecting the left-wing noise machine to call them on this in 3… 2… 1… 0.5… 0.25… 0.125…. oh, who am I kidding?

  24. D.Rose

    “(when Congress still had a Republican majority as well) in 2007”

    Er, Democrats won majorities in BOTH chambers (operational majority in the Senate from 2 caucusing independents) in November 2006 (hence my anger with them governing like they’re still the minority party, afraid that the Republicans are going to be mean to them…); the 110th Congress was seated January 2007 to January 2009. Democrats briefly had the majority in the Senate during the 107th (again by a caucusing independent) and you’d have to go back to before 1995 to see Democrats again in the majority in either chamber (Wiki doesn’t even have an entry for the 103rd).

  25. Weed Monkey

    @infophile #24: No, they did not. Please read the OP.

  26. Technogeek

    Unsurprisingly, my representative (Vernon Ehlers) was one of the Republicans to vote yes on the bill, and apparently also co-sponsored it.

    To be fair, though, Ehlers has a Ph. D in nuclear physics from UC-Berkley, and co-chairs a Congressional caucus dedicated to pretty much what this bill seeks to accomplish. As screwed up as the Republican party is, Ehlers is a far cry from someone like Michelle Bachmann.

  27. justcorbly

    Most of the GOP’s political support comes from people who think science is either unnecessary or blasphemous because they believe the Bible answers every possible question. Most GOP money comes from corporations and corporate apologists who are more than happy to spin lies about the evil of government so they can step in and control our lives in its absence.

  28. James

    Like most of you have echoed before, a victory for science. We need to keep the momentum going through 2010 and then reelect Obama for 2012 to keep science funded however, and that involves all of us banding together to defeat these racist, anti-science republicans who only wish to drag us through another 8 years of christianity-clinging, evolution-loving and corporate greed. I find it shameful that people could even vote against the bill – perhaps those who did (red state politicians I’m looking at you) should reject the funding and give it to those who actually believe in science.

  29. Grand Lunar

    Best news so far, as far as politics and science go.

    I’d be even happier to hear of results that can come about from this.

  30. DataJack

    For those of you speculating upon Palin in 2012…I firmly believe that crafty liar doesn’t want Obama’s job, and she never has. She want Rush Limbaugh’s job. No responsibility, hardly any work, and four orders of magnitude better pay. She has proven she is great at trashing other’s efforts, without really contributing any of her own.

  31. JupiterIsBig

    I don’t know the way your Congress works, but I’m sure the Republicans thought of this method for getting the Bill passed too.
    It’s all just posturing, they got their porn amendment in as well as all of the others which were supported by the Democrats or voted for by Democrats because they couldn’t afford to look like they don’t support the amendment.
    The Republicans also got to vote “Nay” on the spending part which plays to the Tea Baggers, but it still got passed, so any of them who do support science and innovation still got what they want.

    The same rubbish goes on here in Oz and in any other Parliament in the world. e.g. Our Prime Minister is picking a fight with miners over taxing them, so he can look strong after backing down on the Emmissions Trading Scheme and shelving it for a few years.

  32. Adam

    Quick factcheck: Junior might still have been the president in 2007, but Democrats had majorities in the House and Senate (though just barely).

  33. jcm

    “Too many Republicans still voted against it, claiming it was too much spending.”

    That’s because war it’s not involved.

  34. Timmy

    Party politics,,,,,left /right,,,,,conservative/liberal,,,,,,,,,,,both sides,,,,,,both lie,,,,,,,both use the same tricks and methods,,,,,fools who follow,,,,,,disgusting !!!!

  35. Astrofiend

    “Too many Republicans still voted against it, claiming it was too much spending.”
    “That’s because war it’s not involved.”

    Yeah – Imagine the Dems tried to make some savings by cutting military expenditure! The Republicans would be up in arms about how the Dems are a national security threat, aren’t doing all they can for homeland security, they don’t support the troops, next they’ll be trying to take our guns and bibles from us, blah blah blah and other over-hyped, super-patriotic, sensationalist BS.

  36. Astrofiend

    PS – The democrats are hopeless too. Vote for me instead – I’m just in it for the power, the potential for money to be made from my inherently corrupt nature, and the not insubstantial benefits from the existence of Lewinsky-type traits in some women (note – those ‘some women’ being hotter than Lewinsky. Clinton could easily have done far better than that.).

    There – nothing would change for your country, but at least I’m up-front. My plot is fool-proof – because I’m so unashamedly corrupt, show no compassion to anyone and would love nothing more than to impose my beliefs on others, that means that I get the Christian-right vote by default. Because I can talk a whole lot of BS, I automatically get the republican vote. Democrats will vote for me because I can act spineless and weak, and it is clear from overwhelming evidence that democrats seem to be into that sort of thing.

    Easy – I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

  37. Jeffrey

    Yes, the following points will earn wrath because they’re heartless and all that. But…

    The legislation gives special consideration to the disabled, to labor organizations, and to veterans for employment in the fields of science and technology.

    Is the purpose of the bill to solve the problems of finding energy solutions, or to promote jobs among those *already* most-sought-out for other “favored status” job groups?

    This really isn’t a “science” bill – it’s a discriminatory employment bill.

  38. PCB

    I suck at it, but here’s a few haiku commentaries:

    I’m a congressman
    I used to be a human
    Now I can be bought

    I’m Republican,
    My opinion has a price,
    Coupled with earmarks

    A congresscritter,
    Wholly owned by big business,
    My god is profit.

    Skeptical thinker,
    Alone in a labyrinth,
    Science is my choice.

    A conservative,
    Refusing an avowal,
    I want you to fail.

    People mean nothing,
    What matters is my checkbook,
    Please re-elect me.

    I cannot think for myself,
    I need my preacher.

  39. PCB

    Each bad haiku is meant as a standalone, I don’t think that Repubs are critical thinkers…

    With all apologies, I’m just trying to avoid the inevitable misreading of my (admittedly) horrible post.

  40. Q

    Seems like the politicians in the US is doing the same thing as politicians in the rest of the world, shooting mosquitoes and swallowing camels.

    Here is a video clip that all americans should see!
    Rep Alan Grayson Introduces the War Is Making You Poor Act:

  41. On the vast scale of how the government spends money, this sounds like one of the better ideas. I do wish the division of question was used more often. Last minute amendments derail good legislation or include real stinkers with stuff that ‘must pass’ too often.

    Anyone know why you need to give your driver’s license information at the pharmacy when you pick up pseudophedrine(sp?)? The Patriot Act. Cutting down on crystal meth production (the reason to limit sales of pseudophedrine) strikes me as a good idea, but it had very little to do with what The Patriot Act was supposedly about.

  42. Wasn’t that bill put forth by the Bush administration? I’m just saying. Too many people lean too far left OR right. People get irritated by people like me who solidly sit in the middle. Both sides have their crackpots – tree huggers on the left and bible beaters on the right. To hell with them all (if there is such a place).

    I think the parties involved just try to block the other and aren’t concerned with what the bill actually is. In this case science funding was involved.

    A victory for science isn’t a victory for a political party; It’s a victory for everyone.

  43. Siege

    43. Lewis

    The problem is, the middle keeps drifting to the right. I haven’t changed political stance for pretty much twenty years, but my opinions keep seeming more and more strongly leftist for no apparent reason, when I was pretty clearly middle of the road in the late 80s/early 90s.

  44. Wobble

    These at least have the potential to pay off, unlike the tax cuts.

    So raise taxes to 99% and see what happens.

  45. MadScientist

    The GOP sure aren’t shy to hold a gun to the nation and demand a ransom. Remember when we couldn’t get the congress to approve the federal budget? Face it – Lincoln’s party is infested with self-serving thugs. The nation exists to serve the GOP, not the other way around.

    @Wobble: What have you been smoking/snorting/injecting? No one’s proposing a 99% tax.

  46. Ted

    You know if people are really supportive of this bill, they should be identifying spending to cut or taxes to raise to pay for it. Demanding more spending while not being willing to make any sacrifice for it is the behavior we expect from children, not adults.

    And saying, “we could be out of the war” does not count. That’s like spending money on a big TV because you already spent a lot of money on a big car.

  47. Daffy

    Wobble, during the 1950s—a time of great prosperity—the upper tax rate was over 88 percent.

    So much for what Rush Limbaugh tells you.

  48. Cory

    Wow, the idea of fiscal responsibility is simply dead.

  49. MadScientist

    @Cory #50: I don’t believe “fiscal responsibility” was ever an objective in any budget approved in my lifetime. If it were the corridors may not be so packed with lobbyists. At least this seems to be a general item and not something earmarked for the lobbyists’ masters.

  50. mike burkhart

    All of you are worng ,the Republicans do love science if it involves wepons research,and corperations paying greedy sciencetists to help lie to people. If there was funding for a new wepons system s and to pay global warming denayers all of the GOP would have voted yes .I dissagree about tea partys as long as Oboma ,Pelosi,and Read are around the Tea partys will be around ,they feed off of each other.

  51. Kver

    As a science teacher, I applaud the passing of this bill. A decade late and a dollar short, but somebody is realizing that the USA needs all the smarts it can get.

    As a father, I sadly realize that our congress is totally out of control. We’re thirteen TRILLION dollars in the red. ( My children, my grandchildren, and my great grand children now have to pay up for our excessive spending. This isn’t a democrat thing, this isn’t a republican thing – this is our congress playing the role of Santa Clause for the good little boys and girls while the taxpayers get the tab. Too many things in too many congressional districts to BUY the votes.

    As a taxpayer, I watch the EU in general and Greece in particular. Their little deficit pleasure cruise just hit the hard rocks of reality. Knowing that the lenders cometh soon, I don’t care what party philosophy you subscribe to – we’re flat broke. We’re writing checks our country can’t cash.

  52. fred edison

    It’s disheartening when something as basic as science funding comes into doubt as it did here. Doubly so when only 17 (thinkers) out of 167 Republicans decided the future of science and technology funding is important to them and their constituents. But the irony’s that even though 150 on the right voted against the bill, like everyone they will benefit from any windfalls from it. And a nefarious few will probably enjoy some political accolades, as has been the case with other conveniently forgetful politicians. Such is the world of Washington, D.C., where the future of a political party has seemingly become more important than the future of the people and country it’s supposed to represent.

    Some people make a choice to fight the future and others choose to fight for the future. I prefer the latter, and I’m very pleased that the majority vote thought so too. It’s fantastic news to see this necessary funding of science and technology passed, even if it took two more times than it should have.

  53. James A. Brown

    I think a better analogy would be not buying seed corn because it’s too expensive.

  54. Unklar Klaar

    Once again, your post is predicated on an anti-Republican bias.


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