With the elections last week, the Republicans took over the House once again. The list of things this means is long and troubling, but the most troubling to me come in the forms of two Texas far-right Republicans: Congressmen Ralph Hall and Joe Barton.
The former, you may remember, tried to scuttle a science innovation and education bill by adding a rider to it making it illegal to pay the salaries of government employees who watch porn on work computers. When the bill finally passed, he then made incredibly hypocritical statements about the Democrats in order to scapegoat them.
Yeah, so that guy? He’s set to take over the House Committee on Science and Technology. Terrific.
The latter, Joe Barton, is quite simply an embarrassment. He is most famous for apologizing to then BP President Tony Hayward for the government being mean to the oil company, after BP dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The havoc that leak unleashed is only just now coming to light. Congressman Barton also is a climate change denier, and went so far as to write a very misleading editorial in the Washington Post about it.
So yeah, of course he’s angling to be head of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Read More
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.
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.