Policy News: April 8


Here are some highlights form the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.


As of the morning of Friday, April 8, repeated meetings at the White House fostered no definitive agreement between House and Senate leaders to fund the government through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. Lawmakers and the president have until Friday evening at midnight to avoid a shutdown of the federal government.

On Thursday, April 7, 2011, the House passed H.R. 1363, a bill that would fund the Department of Defense through the remainder of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011 and fund all other federal agencies for an additional week through April 15. The legislation would cut discretionary spending by $12 billion. It also includes language that would bar the District of Columbia from using local government funds to pay for abortion services. The bill passed by a vote of 247-181.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) offered an alternative measure that would provide a clean extension of government spending at current levels for an additional week. The measure came to a vote and failed completely along party lines 236-187.

The abortion restrictions, which serve to rally conservative House Republicans, ultimately helped doom the bill’s chances of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) planned to offer an amended Senate version of the House one-week extension, similar to Hoyer’s measure.

In the process of considering the latest funding bill, the House Rules Committee voted to waive a requirement included in House Rules stating that a measure must be introduced three days before it is considered on the House floor. The temporary rule gives the Speaker of the House additional capacity to avert or shorten a government shutdown.

While both President Obama and Congressional leaders seem to agree that talks were “progressing” as of Thursday evening, no definitive number or compromise had yet been reached. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on the White House to sign the temporary funding measure. However, President Obama reaffirmed his veto threat against the bill. Majority Leader Reid blamed the stalemate on a partisan dispute over Planned Parenthood and other controversial riders that were included in the House-passed bill.

As of April 8, the numerical differences amounted to $5 billion, roughly 0.14 percent of the $3.5 trillion annual budget. Speaker Boehner is pushing for a deal that would include about $39 billion in spending cuts compared to fiscal year (FY) 2010. Reid and Obama are pushing for about $34 billion in cuts, although there have also been recent reports of a tentative $38 billion agreement.

Republicans also complained that while the White House package accepted additional cuts , the portion coming from domestic discretionary appropriations had not changed significantly. The White House and Senate Democrats have offered a measure that would increase spending cuts to $33 billion by cutting mandatory agricultural spending programs. Republicans have been adamant that the cuts come from discretionary spending.


On April 5, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal. The blueprint for the coming fiscal year includes cuts to energy research and ends moratoriums on oil drilling and exploration.

Overall, the budget seeks to cut $5.8 billion in projected spending over the next 10 years. While focusing largely on tax reform and mandatory spending programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the budget proposal includes language that criticizes many of the Obama administration’s key energy and environmental initiatives.

Of the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, it states that “burdensome and ineffective regulations on businesses in the service of dubious environmental goals have driven up the prices of many products and services, while creating barriers for needed capital investment and job creation.” The budget also vows to remove “bureaucratic barriers” to domestic energy production by lifting “moratoriums on safe, responsible energy production in the United States.”

The House Budget Committee approved the bill April 6 along a party line vote with 22 Republicans voting yes and 16 Democrats voting no. It is set to be voted on the House floor next week. The Senate is not expected to take up the measure in its current form.

A summary of the House Republican budget proposal is available here.


On Wednesday, March 6, the Senate rejected a series of amendments aimed at blocking or limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to permanently block the EPA’s regulatory authority over greenhouse gases. The measure is identical to the legislation introduced by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK). The Senate also rejected three alternative amendments offered by Democrats that sought to limit EPA’s authority to issue climate regulations.

The amendment offered by Minority Leader McConnell received the most support. It failed by a 50-50 vote. Even in the event it had been considered under rules requiring a simple majority, the tie breaking vote of Vice President Joe Biden would have doomed the measure. The four Democrats voting in favor included Sens. Mary Landrieu (LA), Joe Manchin (WV), Ben Nelson (NE) and Mark Pryor (AR) while Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) was the only Republican to vote no.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) offered an amendment to delay the EPA climate rules for two years. It failed by a vote of 12-88, winning the support of largely moderates from both sides of the aisle.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) offered an amendment to delay EPA climate rules for two years, exempt agriculture from greenhouse-gas rules and boost a tax credit program for manufacturing green-energy equipment. The amendment was cosponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and failed by a vote 7-93.

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) offered an amendment to exempt agriculture from EPA climate regulations and codify EPA’s “tailoring” rule, which exempts smaller emitters from the regulations. It also failed by a vote of 7-93.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Upton-Inhofe measure (H.R. 940) passed April 7, by a vote of 255-172 with 19 Democrats voting with all Republicans in support of the measure. The House defeated nine amendments offered by Democrats that sought to either provide exemptions to the bill’s prohibition on EPA regulations or changed the bill’s “findings” section. Most failed by a largely party line vote and only a few received any support from Republicans.


On March 31, this year’s three Ecological Society of America (ESA) Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) winners spent the day on Capitol Hill to urge federal support of science.

The 2011 GSPA winners included Daniel Evans (University of Washington), Michael Levy (West Virginia University) and Kellen Marshall (University of Illinois-Chicago). Each of the students joined a small team of scientists to encourage congressional support for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) fiscal year 2012 budget request of $7.67 billion.

The annual Congressional Visits Day is sponsored by the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition, jointly spearheaded by the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Together the groups met with upwards of nearly 50 congressional offices in the House and Senate, highlighting the need for investment in scientific research and education and offering personal stories of the positive impact of NSF on the communities elected officials represent.

Participants emphasized the many beneficial economic impacts of NSF investment, including that NSF grants support about 150,000 researchers, technicians, undergraduate and graduate students, and post-docs, have generated over 80,000 patents between 2000 – 2009, and have given rise to successful businesses such as Google.




Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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