July 18th, 2011, by Abby Benson  

Week in Review, or Wheels in the Sky

The House had a productive week in the appropriations arena, with the full Appropriations Committee reporting out the FY 2012 Commerce, Science, and Justice and Interior-Environment spending bills and the House passing the FY 2012 Energy and Water spending bill (more below). The Senate is still holding off on moving the majority of their spending bills until the looming debt ceiling decision gets made, which given the current state of play will likely be sometime on or around 11:59 pm on August 1st!

President Obama held a number of meetings with Congressional leaders to discuss the debt ceiling, but several unenlightening press briefs later, all parties seem to be just spinning their wheels. The one plan that did get some traction, at least in the press, was put forth by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). This plan would allow President Obama to raise the debt limit in stages, as long as the increases are accompanied by spending cuts. Congress could disapprove the debt limit increases, but would need a two-thirds majority to do so, making this a tough hurdle to cross. This plan has received push back from both parties, as conservative Republicans don’t like the idea of giving the President the power to raise the debt ceiling, while some Democrats see this as a great opportunity to place blame on their party later if the larger deficit reduction problem does not get addressed. Meanwhile, the House is planning to vote this week on a mostly symbolic  balanced budget amendment to the Constitution based on their “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan. This vote would be considered symbolic since it has virtually no chance of being considered in the Senate.

Also of Note

Appropriations. After a week of debate, the House passed the FY2012 Energy and Water Development spending bill by a vote of 219-196. Several amendments were introduced on the floor that would have reduced research budgets, but they were mostly unsuccessful. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ)—one of the few members of Congress with a scientific background—offered an amendment that would have restored the Office of Science to its FY 2011 level, but this also failed. The House did approve, by one vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) that restored $80 million to the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), bringing it back to its FY 2011 funding level.

The full House Appropriations Committee reported out the FY 2012 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) spending bill, with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) funding levels remaining essentially the same as reported last week. A successful amendment offered by Rep. Farr (D-CA) did increase funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) research, facilities, and operations, while an amendment offered by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) to restore funding to the James Webb telescope did not pass. More details on how the research funds in this bill will be spent are now available in the Committee report.

In preparation for the CJS markup, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) spearheaded a letter to House appropriators signed by over 140 scientific organizations, including MIT, expressing support for continued funding for the NSF Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. The SBE Directorate was not directly targeted by any amendments during the markup.

The full House Appropriations Committee also approved the FY 2012 Interior-Environment spending bill. It does not appear that any amendments offered during Committee consideration affected the U.S. Geological Survey funding levels, as reported on last week.

Energy. During a Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee hearing on the “Safety and Economics of Light Water Small Modular Reactors,” during which MIT Professor Ernie Moniz testified, Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) expressed his support for research and development to “jump start” certain technologies, and in particular called out the Department of Energy (DOE) energy innovation hubs as a successful model in this regard.

Space. NASA announced that they selected the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space Inc. (CASIS) to manage the portion of the International Space Station (ISS) to be operated as a U.S. national laboratory. CASIS will be located in Florida near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

In the News

Stewart Prager, Director of Princeton’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory  penned an op-ed in The New York Times on the promise of fusion, and the federal support that would be required to harness its full potential as an energy source.

In a Politico op-ed, David Poeppel and Mitchel Moss accuse Senator Coburn (R-OK) of “getting it wrong” with his recommendation to eliminate funding at NSF for social, behavioral, and economic research.

The Science Coalition, a coalition of universities focused on strengthening the federal government’s investment in university-based scientific research, held a media roundtable on Capitol Hill with a number of senior research officers from universities across the country. The Washington Post covered the roundtable in their Innovations section.

MIT President Susan Hockfield delivered a keynote address at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA) in Salt Lake City. With the theme for the NGA annual meeting as innovation and economic growth, President Hockfield described the role of research universities in fueling innovation, and the importance of federally supported scientific research and infrastructure in this pursuit.

What’s On Deck

Each week I include in this section what I know about hearings/events taking place on Capitol Hill that are related to scientific research. Please keep in mind that schedules do change (mostly things get added), and I will try to keep this updated as the week progresses.  Feel free to check back on the site or follow me on twitter (NEWSciPol) for more up to date information throughout the week.


  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resource s Committee will hold a hearing on a new MIT report on The Future of Natural Gas.


  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold another hearing in their series on Regulatory Reform - FDA Medical Device Regulation: Impact on American Patients, Innovation and Jobs.


  • The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a full committee markup on the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2011.

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