Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Aiming for Agreement, GOP May Turn to What's Cooking in the Lab

America COMPETES Act Reauthorization  (Credit: aera.net) Click to enlarge.
Science and technology research issues could gain prominence under a Republican-controlled Congress as the GOP and President Obama look for an early demonstration of productivity and bipartisanship -- especially one associated with the economy and jobs.

Obama and Majority Leader-in-waiting Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both said they will respond to voters' desire for legislative action, but that could prove difficult on high-profile issues such as immigration or even the Keystone XL pipeline. Science research and development could provide a political and policy path forward relatively free of controversy and partisanship.

"In science and research, that is one where again it is not as high visibility but it is one that both parties really want to continue to push," said Patrick Von Bargen, former chief of staff to former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). "Most members of Congress have universities in their districts, and this is important to them."

The main policy action on science and energy R&D is found in annual appropriations and in a comprehensive education and research and development bill known as COMPETES, which expired in September 2013.  Efforts to reauthorize the bipartisan bill first passed under former President George W. Bush have stalled in large part over program funding authorization levels, although stakeholders say those differences could likely be reconciled if leadership makes the bill a priority -- the issue's lower profile proving both an advantage and a handicap.

While nondefense, discretionary spending has been lower overall in the past few years, science R&D funding is faring better in comparison to other programs, according to Matt Hourihan, R&D budget director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Within science and energy programs, there are issues that may be more vulnerable to attacks and funding cuts under a Republican-controlled Congress, especially social and climate science, as well as technology development and demonstration. Recent House appropriation bills have drastically downsized funding for the Energy Department's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office, which negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate have then restored.

That dynamic could change with Republicans in charge of the upper chamber, although a significant decrease in clean energy spending may be an issue Democrats would be willing to filibuster -- or even draw a veto threat from Obama, who has made climate change and energy a key part of his second term, Von Bargen said. GOP members of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee have also previously been more moderate on clean energy funding.
It is a crucial time for U.S. science leadership, experts said.  The National Academy of Sciences, business leaders and other experts have warned that U.S. economic competitiveness is slipping dangerously and will continue to do so without better science R&D funding and education.

Read More at Aiming for Agreement, GOP May Turn to What's Cooking in the Lab

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