ESA Policy News October 28: President, Congress reach two-year budget deal, Ryan nominated House speaker, Canada elects Trudeau prime minister
Oct28

ESA Policy News October 28: President, Congress reach two-year budget deal, Ryan nominated House speaker, Canada elects Trudeau prime minister

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  BUDGET: WHITE HOUSE, CONGRESS REACH TWO-YEAR BUDGET AGREEMENT The White House and Congressional leaders have finalized a budget deal that raises the debt limit and sets spending levels for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. The bill passed the House Oct. 28 by a vote of 266-167. All voting Democrats were joined by 79 Republicans in support of the measure. All 167 opposing votes came from Republicans. Dubbed the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015,” the deal would extend the debt ceiling until March 5, 2017. Similar to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-67), it would provide relief for sequestration—automatic spending cuts to discretionary spending programs that are set to go into effect next year. The bill would increase overall discretionary spending by $80 billion over the next two years, equally divided between defense and nondefense discretionary programs. The discretionary spending increases would provide an additional $50 billion above the sequestration spending caps for discretionary programs in FY 2016 and $30 billion in FY 2017. It also includes an additional $32 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations for defense and non-defense security programs for the next two fiscal years. In September, the Ecological Society of America joined 2,500 national, state and local organizations in signing a letter to Members of Congress requesting they replace sequestration with a more balanced approach to deficit reduction. Click here to view the letter. HOUSE: RYAN SELECTED TO BE NEW SPEAKER NOMIMEE Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was selected by House Republicans today as their nominee for speaker of the House. This will be followed by a formal vote on the floor of the US House of Representatives on Oct. 29. Boehner will resign from the House on Oct. 30. Ryan’s agreement to be speaker rested upon his colleagues assurance of the necessary 218 Republican votes needed to win, which he secured at the close of last week when a majority of the far-right House Freedom Caucus indicated their support. WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ADDS 68 BUSINESSES TO CLIMATE PLEDGE On October 19, the White House announced that 68 additional companies have signed its “American Business Act on Climate Pledge” joining 13 others who first signed the pledge in June. In signing the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” they voiced support for a strong outcome in the upcoming Paris climate negotiations by pledging to reduce their carbon emissions and improve sustainability. Collectively, the 81 companies “have operations in all 50 states, employ over 9 million people, represent more than $3 trillion in annual revenue, and have...

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ESA Policy News July 1: White House voices concern with Senate CJS funding bill, Supreme Court rebuffs air pollution rule, ESA commends pope for climate emphasis
Jul01

ESA Policy News July 1: White House voices concern with Senate CJS funding bill, Supreme Court rebuffs air pollution rule, ESA commends pope for climate emphasis

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: WHITE HOUSE VOICES CONCERN WITH SENATE CJS BILL On June 24, the White House Office of Management and Budget submitted a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee expressing concern with the Senate Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. Like official Statements of Administration Policy, the letters outline its position on the bills. Unlike the Statements of Administration Policy, the letters do not specify whether the president would veto the bill. Areas of concern cited in the letter include significant funding decreases in the FY 2016 budgets for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as compared to the president’s FY 2016 budget request. For NSF, the letter notes that the bill “would lead to about 700 fewer research grants, affecting about 9,100 researchers, technicians, and students.” The disparities in funding levels exist because Congressional Republicans have sought to adhere to sequestration, the automatic across-the-board cuts to all discretionary spending included in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25), while the administration has not. The sequestration cuts can be avoided if Congress passes a deficit reduction measure. Alternatively, Congress would have to pass a new law to nullify the automatic spending cuts, unlikely with the House and Senate under Republican control. The president’s FY 2016 budget would offset sequestration by implementing targeted discretionary spending cuts and revenue increases through tax reform. Click here to view the White House letter on the Senate FY 2016 CJS bill. EPA: SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS AIR POLLUTION RULE On June 29, the US Supreme Court struck down the Obama administration’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) rule for coal-fired power plants. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have considered compliance costs before deciding to move forward with the air pollution rule. The Supreme Court ruling effectively reverses the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which concluded the EPA rule was within its powers under the Clean Air Act. The DC Circuit Court must now decide whether to instruct EPA to carry out additional analyses or strike down the rule altogether. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia stated “EPA must consider cost — including cost of compliance — before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the Agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost.”...

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National Science Board report highlights need for continued science investment
Feb12

National Science Board report highlights need for continued science investment

Southeast Asia’s R&D performance shoots up through the aughts, eclipsing US A Feb. 11 Capitol Hill briefing orchestrated by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board (NSB) showcased the board’s latest biannual Science and Engineering Indicators report, which outlines the current state of science investment domestically in the United States as well as internationally among other countries. The briefing was held in a hearing from of the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee (Russell 253). The 25 member board sets policy for the NSF and advises the President and Congress on science and engineering. Biannual indictors reports fulfill a statutory mandate to report to Congress and executive agencies on the status of science and engineering, including R&D trends and the demographics of the S&E workforce. Entitled “What the latest Federal data tell us about the US Science and Technology Enterprise,” the briefing spotlighted a number of statistics from the report of interest to policymakers. The report highlighted a shift in the global science landscape with countries such as China and South Korea rapidly eclipsing the United States in their share of worldwide research and development (R&D) investment. Collectively, the information compiled the support helps showcase both the importance science investment plays in economic development and the importance of this investment in maintaining America’s global competitiveness in innovation. Since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed by the United States has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, Asian countries’ share of global R&D has risen from 25 to 34 percent over the same period. China’s share alone spiked from four percent to 15 percent over that decade. The Great Recession (2008-2009) caused declines in R&D expenditures attributable to business R&D, which contributes the largest share of US R&D spending. The NSB report notes that the decrease was partially offset by a one-time bump in federal funding for scientific research included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5). According to the report, the US has rebounded better than other developed countries in overall R&D funding. The report also found that science and technology degree holders “weathered” the recession better than other sectors of the US workforce. It also stated that workers in S&E occupations have almost always had lower unemployment than workers in other jobs. In 2011, the federal government was the primary financial support source for 19 percent of full-time S&E graduate students. Graduate students in the biological sciences, physical sciences and engineering received relatively more federal support than those in computer, math, health, or social sciences. The report also found that tuition and fees for colleges and universities have grown...

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Further discretionary spending cuts unnecessary to address federal debt

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst While the taxation aspect of the fiscal cliff may have been averted, budget sequestration was merely punted until March 1, which means funding for federal agencies responsible for science and environmental  initiatives remain at risk unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the debt by $1.2 trillion before then. The across-the-board indiscriminate cuts to discretionary spending would have multifaceted impacts. There is also the issue of potentially defaulting on the national debt, the consequences of which could prove disastrous for the economy. Congress recently took action to temporarily avert these consequences until such time as a deal can be reached on sequestration (hopefully). Prior to the fiscal cliff deal, the White House had released a report outlining how funding levels for federal agencies (including science agencies) would be impacted under sequestration. As noted in a recent letter sent by scientific societies to the president and congressional leaders, hindering investment in science puts our nation’s overall global competitiveness at risk. Further, the Wilderness Society last year compiled a report outlining sequestration’s impacts on federal conservation efforts, which include endangering public safety at national public parks. Given that we will be five months into Fiscal Year 2013 (which started Oct. 1, 2012) by the time these cuts would be made, their impact would likely be even more severe than they would have been, had they been implemented in January. As numerous reports have relayed, discretionary spending is not the root cause of our national debt.  Indeed, these massive cuts to critical discretionary spending would do nothing to stem  the nation’s growing debt. The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) notes that overall discretionary spending is already on the decline (partially attributable to the spending caps outlined in the Budget Control Act (BCA)) and that meaningful debt reduction must address “health care inflation, the retirement of the baby boomers, and an inefficient tax code that raises too little revenue.” BPC has even gone as far as stating that restraining defense and non-defense discretionary spending is “the one issue that Congress has fully addressed,” which could be taken to mean that further discretionary spending cuts would go further than BPC deems necessary (and with little impact on the debt). BPC also agrees that the initial discretionary spending savings of $840 billion ($920 billion with interest included) under the BCA are similar to what was recommended under the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as Simpson-Bowles. According to a summary draft of the Simpson-Bowles plan, implementation of their recommendations for reducing tax expenditures ($751 billion) and cutting mandatory spending ($733...

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Budget sequestration – it’s not Congress’s first rodeo

  A ticking time bomb is set to go off in January that would cost millions of jobs, stifle discretionary spending investments in disaster response, conservation, education, research and innovation as well as increase taxes on millions and potentially  spur another recession – the fiscal cliff. Coinciding with the expiration of a series of tax cuts and unemployment benefits, the fiscal cliff also includes across-the-board cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary programs, enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). These programs were targeted in an effort to jeopardize funding that was important to both parties in a manner that (one would think) would encourage the expedient development of a bipartisan solution to addressing the federal debt. The effort (thus far) has proved to be not only futile but would likely do more harm than good. A report from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) concludes that allowing the discretionary spending cuts to be implemented would hurt a number of critical government services and cost over a million jobs. Further, BPC notes  that full implementation of the sequester will only delay by two years the date at which public debt surpasses 100 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product as increased mandatory spending programs coupled with decreasing revenue are the primary drivers of our burgeoning debt.  Another report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office adds that extending the tax cuts set to expire would save or create up to 1.8 million jobs. However, the sequestration’s basic concept of holding beloved investments hostage in favor of a long-term compromise is not exactly new. The sequestration method was initially implemented during the 99th Congress under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-177). The bill instituted a five year plan to lower the national debt, which had reached record levels at the time. The legislation was introduced by Sens. Phil Gramm (R-TX), Warren Rudman (R-NH) and Fritz Hollings (D-SC). If deficit goals were not met in any given year, automatic spending cuts (50 percent from defense and 50 percent from non-defense discretionary spending) would occur.  The bill passed the Democratic House by a vote of 271-154, the Republican Senate by a vote of 61-31 and was signed by President Reagan Dec. 12, 1985. Implementation of the sequester under P.L. 99-177 rested with the Comptroller General of the United States, who also serves as the Director of the General Accountability Office (GAO). Given that GAO is part of the legislative branch, the US Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in 1986 as a violation of the separation of powers. The court stated that the US Constitution commands that Congress play no role...

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Is science policy partisan?

New America Foundation fellows say no. Terence says, not so fast— By Terence Houston, Policy Analyst, and Liza Lester, Communications Officer In the thick of Presidential debate season, with November 6th bearing down upon us, DC think tank the New America Foundation teamed up with Slate Magazine and Arizona State University to “Delve into ‘12” and ask a panel of wonks and journalists if partisan promises translate into real policy differences for science and technology. Does it matter whether Obama is reelected or Romney replaces him? What will change if the Democrats lose the Senate? “It’s Science and Tech Policy, Stupid,” a Future Tense event, promised answers. Liza went to the event and returned bewildered. Luckily, Terence (ESA’s policy analyst) was on hand to put the New America discussion into perspective. In this post, you get Liza’s introduction followed by Terence’s commentary.   Liza: so is science politically polarizing or not? I’m confused. Science and technology are not partisan, according to Konstantin Kakaes, a fellow at New America, former Knight Science Journalism fellow and Economist reporter. Or perhaps he meant that what politicians say they will do isn’t what they actually do, when campaign rhetoric meets legislative reality. He seemed to be arguing both, so the message got a bit muddled. Kakaes pointed to the demise of the Superconducting Super Collider 20 years ago, fallen to Senate vs. House bickering, not partisan disputes. The loss didn’t really matter to physics, though, not in the way that you would think based on the hype, or  at least not as far as politicians could tell, he added. All politicians exaggerate the benefits of the projects they champion, he said. “It’s a matter of being a politician rather than being a politician of one ideological stripe or another.” And neither party heeds sound scientific advice, whether crystal clear, as in the case of missile defense, or framed in more vague presentiments of foreboding and lack of knowledge, as with recent fracking recommendations. Military requisitions and energy policy are dominated by economic and political concerns, not scientific advice. Kakaes’ point of view is kind of reassuring, in spite of his attitude of futility. To have its fortunes tied to a political party is not good for science, or any entity. (See the history of Planned Parenthood for a case study in the damage such political alignments can do). We don’t want science to be partisan. But…calls to shutter the EPA emerged from the Republican-held House not long ago. Repudiations of climate science and evolution have left scientists feeling that there is a definite partisan divide yawning—or worse, that congressional confidence in science is...

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Breaking down the nation’s current fiscal crisis

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst Background Last week’s non-defense discretionary spending (NDD) summit emphasized the theme of a balanced approach towards addressing the nation’s growing national debt. Whether you value investments in scientific research, education or the environment, the current debate over our nation’s fiscal crisis deserves close attention as it will determine long-term investments in a broad spectrum of federal programs that impact everyday life for millions of Americans. Due to Congress’s political inability to tackle the federal debt in a meaningful fashion, in 2011, it passed the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25), a law that sets an automatic trigger across discretionary spending programs in January 2013 totaling $1.2 trillion unless Congress develops an alternative plan to reduce the federal debt by at least that amount. Broken down, the spending cuts total $54 billion per year (7.5 percent) to defense programs and $54 billion per year (8.4 percent) to non-defense programs through Fiscal Year 2021. As policymakers work address the nation’s growing federal deficit, it is helpful to take a step back to examine what is and what is not the driving force behind the national debt. Perspectives on what’s a stake with reference to the upcoming sequester can be found in a report the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), which gives a succinct summary: “Our unsustainable fiscal situation is driven by healthcare inflation, the retirement of the baby boomers, and an inefficient tax code that raises too little revenue. Yet the sequester does nothing to address these problems, instead cutting almost exclusively from defense and non-defense discretionary spending, which are already projected to decline substantially as a percentage of the economy over the coming decade.” Discretionary spending As emphasized during the NDD summit, further cuts that strictly focus on non-defense discretionary spending are economically unwise and ineffective at bringing any long-term deficit reduction. An Aerospace Industries Association report concludes that well over one million jobs would be lost between 2013-2014 if the non-defense discretionary spending cuts are implemented (in total, 2.14 million jobs would be lost, if the defense cuts are included). According to BPC, non-defense discretionary spending accounts for 13 percent of the budget while defense spending accounts for 14 percent of the budget. A report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that discretionary spending as a whole is already projected to fall over the next ten years: “By FY 2022, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s baseline projections, discretionary spending will fall to 5.6 percent of GDP, its lowest level ever,” the CRS report states. Further, according to BPC, full implementation of the sequester will only delay by two...

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Time to Restore Balance

By Terence Houston, science policy analyst and Nadine Lymn, director of public affairs Yesterday afternoon, several hundred individuals from organizations representing education, science, and other communities that make up the non-defense discretionary (NDD) part of the federal budget held a rally on Capitol Hill.  Their objective: to raise awareness that unless Congress takes action, across-the-board federal spending cuts are slated to go into effect on January 2, 2013 as mandated by the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). Speakers called for both political parties to come together and focus on a consensus bipartisan solution towards bringing down the national debt. Senator Tom Harkin (photo on right), who chairs the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, asserted that it is “time to restore balance to the conversation.” The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) projects that implementation of these cuts, also referred to as sequestration, could lead to the loss of over one million jobs in the United States between 2013 and 2014. In its report entitled “Indefensible: The Sequester’s Mechanics and Adverse Effects on National and Economic Security,” BPC notes that even if implemented, the sequester will ultimately prove ineffective in the long run, delaying by only two years the date when publicly- held United States debt surpasses 100 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. “Our unsustainable fiscal situation is driven by health care inflation, the retirement of the baby boomers, and an inefficient tax code that raises too little revenue,” the report notes. “Yet the sequester does nothing to address these problems, instead cutting almost exclusively from defense and non-defense discretionary spending, which are already projected to decline substantially as a percentage of the economy over the coming decade.” Consequently, instead of functioning as a meaningful debt reduction, the sequestration will take a machete to vital discretionary programs including cuts to scientific research ($1.1 billion), special education ($1.1 billion), air transportation security and traffic control ($1.6 billion), disaster relief ($0.7 billion) and disease control ($0.5 billion) with negligible long-term benefits and very significant immediate consequences for Americans. The BPC report reinforces the reality that meaningful deficit reduction must include a focus on revenue reforms and mandatory spending programs as initially suggested by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction effort. Additional speakers at the rally included House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA), City of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, Knott Mechanical President  Martin G. Knott Jr., and Rita Ngabo, a social worker and single mother. The rally was...

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