Hey, remember Congressman Ralph Hall (R-TX) who inserted a totally non sequitur amendment into a science research and education funding bill in a blatant partisan ploy to derail the bill and make Democrats look bad? And remember how the Democrats tried to compromise, removing almost $40 billion of the funding from the bill, but Republicans still stonewalled?
After the Democrats managed to pass the bill despite this, guess what the honorable Ralph Hall had to say. Go on. Guess.
After 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."
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.
I have some good news, and a mea culpa of sorts.
First, the good stuff: the COMPETES act may go to the Floor of the House of Representatives for voting as early as today! This act will fund a lot of scientific innovation and education, and is sorely needed if we are to invest in our future as a country. I’m very happy this is happening — assuming it passes, which I think it will. The original act passed in 2007, and much of this new bill authorizes funding to be extended.
Now, regular readers may be wondering, "Wait! Didn’t you say this bill was dead?"
Yes, I did. You can read that earlier post to get the background, but basically this bill passed through committee, but at the last second a Representative from Texas, Ralph Hall, added some language to it using a parliamentary procedure called a Motion to Recommit. As I understood it at the time, this meant that Congressmen had two choices: overturn the Motion and let the bill be voted upon, or send the bill back to committee where it would almost certainly be tabled indefinitely, the usual outcome of such an event.
The problem was that overturning the Motion was a political landmine; the language Hall added punished people who were downloading porn on their government computers, saying that no money from the act could be used to pay those people’s salaries. So overturning the Motion meant Democrats would basically be handing the far-right media spin machine gasoline for the fire: they would claim the Democrats weren’t punishing the people looking at porn.
So they voted to send the bill back to committee. This is where I made my mistake: everything I had read said that this meant the bill would stagnate and die. However, this is incorrect: the bill can be reintroduced to the House Floor "under suspension", which means as-is with the new language included (technically, this is because the Motion was submitted "with instructions"). This was not clear to me before — the rules can be quite Byzantine — and I readily admit that.
However — and this is a big however — it does NOT change the fact that Hall held this bill hostage by throwing in the non sequitur of the porn addendum. Read More
I know that there are rules to the way laws are made by our government here in the U.S., and that sometimes these rules seem weird and arcane. In general, these rules have evolved to make sure that the majority doesn’t stomp on the minority, and the minority still has a voice.
But it’s also clear that those rules can be abused. In the case of U.S. Congressman Ralph Hall (R-TX), “abuse” isn’t nearly a big enough word. “Cynically manipulated” might be a bit better. He killed a bill that would fund science innovation and education by tying it to punishing people who look at porn at work.
Seriously. This is truly disgusting, and has to be seen to be believed. Please read that link above.
Basically, the America COMPETES act, instituted under the Bush Administration in 2007, funds a lot of technology and other endeavors to keep the US competitive in the world market. Of course, in the current economic market, we don’t have a lot of money to go around. But this bill would have re-authorized that earlier act, funding what is essentially seed corn, making sure that in the years to come we have a robust investment in our own economy. I wasn’t that familiar with it, but after reading about it I’ll say it’s one of the few things done by the previous President I think is a good idea. So did a lot of others: this reauthorization bill had over 100 co-sponsors in the House.
I say “had”, because after the shameful and politically transparent move by Rep. Hall, the bill is basically dead.