July 5th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Repealing Recess

Members of the House of Representatives spent last week in their home states during the House’s district work period. The Senate was in session, holding its first Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Appropriations Committee markup (Military Construction/Veterans Affairs) and addressing a number of pending nominations. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) also announced that Democrats have finally reached a deal on an FY 2012 budget resolution, which will be revealed in the next few weeks. This resolution should provide a top-line number that Senate Appropriations Subcommittees can then use to guide the FY 2012 appropriations process.

As reported last week, the debt limit/deficit reduction negotiations are now in President Obama’s hands, in the aftermath of the dissolution of Vice President Biden’s bipartisan work group. President Obama hosted both Republican and Democratic Senators at the White House last week to discuss the debt limit, and toward the end of the week called on Congressional Republicans to work harder to reach a deal (which, as you can imagine, didn’t make Senate Republicans very happy!). Perhaps in an effort to demonstrate the seriousness of the negotiations, Senator Reid announced late in the week that he would cancel the Senate’s 4th of July recess scheduled for next week. It remains to be seen if the national holiday will inspire members of Congress to make the necessary difficult decisions.

Also of Note

Health. Another round of briefs have been filed in the ongoing case surrounding federal support of embryonic stem cell research, as reported in Nature’s blog. As reported previously, an injunction on conducting stem cell research was recently overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. In the House, the bipartisan Stem Cell Research Advancement Act was reintroduced by Reps. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO). This bill,  a similar version of which was considered during the last Congress, would provide a framework for federal support of embryonic stem cell research.

The Washington Post shared an interview with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins during last week’s BIO Innovation Conference, where he discussed the challenges associated with reductions to the NIH budget.

Homeland Security. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs approved legislation extending the Continuing Chemical Facility Antiterrorism Security Act (S. 473), a bill that provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulatory oversight of chemical facilities, including universities. A similar bill was passed out of the House Homeland Security Committee in late June. This bill causes universities, in particular, some concern as they are lumped into the same categories as large industrial companies and chemical manufacturers, despite a generally different storage pattern (generally smaller quantities, in a more distributed fashion, for example).

Immigration. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act (S. 952, H.R. 1842), which was reintroduced in both chambers back in May. THis bill would make it easier for certain undocumented youth to obtain residency if attending college or serving in the military. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan both testified in favor of the law, arguing in part that the law could allow U.S. citizens to fill highly needed technical and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs. A group of higher education associations also submitted written testimony to the Committee in support of the DREAM Act.

National Science Foundation. Since January of this year, the National Science Board (NSB) has been seeking public input on the National Science Foundation (NSF) merit review process. After reviewing input on the two main criteria used during this process—intellectual merit and broad impacts—the Board has revised the criteria and is now seeking public input on the revisions (due July 14th). The NSB last reviewed the NSF merit review process in 2005.

Patent Reform. Now that the House has passed the America Invents Act, the Senate has to decide whether to take up and pass the House-passed bill or hold a potentially more complicated conference on the two bills. The bill could face a rocky road, as Senator Coburn (R-OK) has already stated opposition to the bill based on the fee diversion compromise that led to House passage two weeks ago.

Research. The White House has established a task force to evaluate the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-21, which outlines rules regarding federal research grants and contracts. As part of this effort, the task force issued a Request for Information (RFI) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) asking for suggestions from the public on ways to improve A-21 (deadline: July 28th). You can learn more at the White House’s blog post on the subject.

What’s On Deck

As the Senate wasn’t supposed to be in session this week, I don’t see much scheduled yet in terms of hearings. The House does have the following hearings of interest scheduled, all on Thursday:

  • The House Appropriations Committee Subcommitee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies will consider the FY 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill (which includes, among others, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)).
  • The House Science Committee will hold a hearing on the science behind ethanol blends.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA): Medical Innovation, Jobs, and Patients.

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