Members of Congress left for their home districts, and won’t return to DC until the second week of November.  When Members return, Congress must address the looming sequestration, described in this posting. 

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Timely TopicsSequestration – What does it Mean?

Capitol News:

  • Congress: EU Carbon Tax; Chinese Solar Manufacturers; and, Wind Tax Credit.
  • Administration: FDA Drug Approvals; Duncan to Stay; Default Rates for Student Loans Released; and, NRC Laser Approval.
  • Courts: Patent Appeal
  • Other DC Affiliates: PBS Tackles HS Dropouts; CRS on Carbon Tax; and, NSB on Public Universities Funding.

Noteworthy News:

  • Poll: Will US Lead in Innovation.
  • Fracking: Thanks to Government Investments.
  • Education Policy: Solving a Crisi.s
  • Graduate Schools – Applications and Enrollment.
  • Open Access for All Disciplines?
  • Tuition at Public Universities Rise, but Why?
  • Student Debt: Reason for Concern?
  • What is the Fate of the Farm Bill?

 In the Know: A Preview of Upcoming Events in DC.

 Timely Topics: Sequestration – What Does it Mean?

When Congress returns after the election on November 6, 2012, all eyes will turn to a few pieces of legislation set to expire.  Most importantly, Congress has until the end of the calendar year to pass a spending-tax bill to avoid triggering an automatic $1.2 trillion sequestration (half coming from defense funding).

Sequestration is defined as “the cancellation of budgetary resources provided by discretionary appropriations or direct spending laws. New budget authority, unobligated balances, direct spending authority, and obligation limitations were “sequestrable” resources; that is, they were subject to reduction or cancellation under a presidential sequester order.”  If you are interested in what all the budget terms mean, check out the Glossary of Budget Terms by clicking on the link to the right under “Databases & Glossaries.”

Sequestration, if it goes forward, would reduce non-defense domestic discretionary spending approximately eight percent, across-the-board on January 1, 2013. This cut would affect programs at all agencies, including NIH, NEH, ED, NSF, NASA, etc.  According to an Office of Management and Budget report, “the sequestration would result in a 9.4 percent reduction in non-exempt defense discretionary funding and an 8.2 percent reduction in non-exempt nondefense discretionary funding. The sequestration would also impose cuts of 2.0 percent to Medicare, 7.6 percent to other non-exempt nondefense mandatory programs, and 10.0 percent to non-exempt defense mandatory programs.”

An article in Inside Higher Ed explains the implications on education programs. The American Association for the Advancement of Science released a report outlining the impacts of sequestration on science budgets and states.

Capitol News: Legislation, Administrative Actions, and Court Action.

Members left DC to campaign back in their home districts.  They still managed to pass some bills, write letters, and introduce legislation before heading home.


  • US Congress says Non, Nein, No to EU Emissions Trading Scheme: Prior to leaving on recess, the Senate passed a bill S.1956, the “European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011” that gives authority to the US Secretary of Transportation to prevent US-based airlines from following the EU law requiring participation in its Emissions Trading Scheme. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill, HR 2594, last year.  It appears likely the will reconcile their differences and send a bill to the President, setting up a conflict with the EU. What this means for future climate change legislation is unclear.
  •  The Sun Rises in the East.  Several Democratic Members of Congress are asking the Department of Commerce to “crack down” on solar manufacturers from China. In a letter, these Members specifically raise with the Acting Secretary of Commerce Blank their concern that “the Department of Commerce has preliminarily defined the scope of the investigation in such a way that, we fear, could undermine trade remedy laws if applied….”  Commerce is expected to issue a final decision on October 10, 2012. Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Merkley (D-OR) introduced two pieces legislation on this issue.
  •  Blowing in the Wind.    One of the looming fights facing Congress when it returns to DC is whether to extend tax credits for wind energy.  In a fight that crosses political parties, both sides have come out swinging.  Senator Alexander (R-TN) and Representative Pompeo (R-KS) came out against extension of the tax credit in a recent The Wall Street Journal opinion piece.  Another 47 House Republicans, in a letter to Speaker Boehner, encouraging him to allow the credits to expire.  Other House Republicans, including Majority Whip McCarthy (R-CA) have expressed support for the extension.   Meanwhile, President Obama blocked the acquisition of four wind farm projects in Oregon by a Chinese company for national security reasons, an action not taken by a US president in 22 years.  And, Caithness Energy opened one of the world’s largest wind farm opened this month in Oregon.  A recent article in The New York Times provides a summary and assessment of the history and political landscape of the wind tax credit, as does The Washington Post in its article, “Unusual coalitions clash over wind energy tax credit.”


  • FDA Drug Approval.  A recent The Wall Street Journal article, describes the President’s Council on Advisors on Science and Technology’s (see link on front page of Blog) recently released report , “Report to the President on Propelling Innovation in Drug Discovery, Development, and Evaluation,” urging the Food and Drug Administration to accelerate approval of drugs for more diseases.  
  •  Duncan to Remain for a Second Term.  According to a report by National Journal, Education Secretary Arne Duncan intends to remain at ED if President Obama is re-elected for a second term.  The report states that Secretary Duncan will likely focus on college costs and increasing graduation rates.
  •  ED publishes Default Rates.  The Department of Education published two and three-year default rates for federal student loans.  The average rate was 13.4% nationally, with private non-profits with the lowest rate (7.5 percent), followed by public institutions (11%), and for-profits with the highest rate (22.7%).
  •  NRC Approves New Laser Technique.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the use of a new laser technique as part of an application from General Electric Co. and Hitachi Ltd for a uranium enrichment plant.  The NRC decision was criticized by some for not fully evaluating potential proliferation risks, as reported by The New York Times.


  • ACLU Appeals Myriad Patent Decision to Supreme Court.  As reported in a prior blog posting (See Florida, Courts and More posting for more details on the Myriad case) a federal court recently upheld Myriad Genetics Inc.’s patents for isolated human genes. ACLU has decided to appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Other DC Affiliates:

  • Public Television Focuses on High School DropoutsThe New York Times recently reported that over 100 public television stations ran a multi-hour live telethon to encourage people to address the Nation’s high school dropout rate.  The broadcast was part of the American Graduate Initiative.  The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which receives federal funding, has pledged five years of support for the Initiative.
  •  Carbon Taxes and the Federal Deficit.  According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service (look for a link on the front page of the blog), the federal deficit could be reduced by half if the government adopts a carbon tax, The Hill reports.  The report also mentions other possible uses for funds raised and acknowledges the political obstacles in enacting a carbon tax.
  •  NSB Expresses Concerns with Public Universities’ Support.  The governing board of the National Science Foundation, the National Science Board, issued a report stating it is “concerned with the long-term financial health of” major public research universities.  The report includes some starting statics including that the nation’s 101 major public research universities declined by an average of 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2002 and 2010.  A few states actually increased funding, but that did not lesson the Board’s concern that the state funding reductions threaten the mission of major public research universities and their ability to “provide quality education and training for the next generation of scientists and engineers, and to compete with their private counterparts.”

Noteworthy News

  • Poll: Will US Lead in Innovation?  According to a recent poll sponsored by United for Medical Research and Research!America, most likely US voters (59%) believe that a country other than the US will “lead the world in science and technology in 2020,” The Hill reported.  According to Research!America, “54%  say that it is important that the US maintain world leadership in research.  Notably, only 49% agreed that medical research funding should not be scaled back.
  •  Fracking Courtesy of the Federal Government.  In a recent article, pioneers of hydraulic fracturing, or fraking, credit the federal government’s investment in fracking research with helping create the industry’s current natural gas boom.  The Department of Energy began providing research dollars for fracking as early as 1975.  These research funds, together with significant tax benefits have allowed fracking to become a new source of natural gas in the United States.
  •  Thoughts on Education:  As the debate over whom to blame for the problems in K-12 and higher education continues, this blog will continue to provide as many perspectives as possible.  A piece in the The NY Times asks “Are We Asking Too Much From Out Teachers?” looking at the recent teachers’ strikes in Chicago and what is reasonable to expect from our K-12 teachers.  A column from the The NY Times also examines teacher status and training in high-performing countries, raising the question of whether the adversarial approach to teachers in the US will yield needed improvements.  Another piece in The NY Times questions whether the push for employment-based education is undermining the pursuit of learning and “the cultivation of freedom within society.”
  •  Graduate School Ups & Downs: A report analyzing results from the Council of Graduate Schools and Graduate Research Examinations Board annual survey on Graduate Enrollment and Degrees, revealed, among other facts, that enrollment dropped slightly (1.7%) this past year.  At the same time, graduate schools reported a 4.3 % increase in the number of applications.
  •  “Open Access” for All?  As the debate over the promise of free access to scholarly publications continues, some disciplines question if “open access” applies equally.  The American Historical Association, for example, recently questioned the wisdom of “open access” publications for humanities and social sciences scholarly works.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee had a scholarly Roundtable review the issue in the last Congress that produced recommendations for federal research agencies.
  •  Tuition Increases at Public Institutions. A recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, delved into the reasons for increases in tuition at public colleges.  The authors find “strong suggestive evidence that decreases in state and local appropriations are associated with increases in net tuition at public schools,” not federal funding.
  •  Student Debt.  A new report from the Pew Research Center, shows an increase in the number of households reporting student debt, up to 19% in 2010 from 15% in 2007.  The report also found that for households headed by someone under 35 years old, 40% had student debt.
  •  Fate of the Farm Bill.  Congress failed to pass a Farm Bill before leaving for recess.  The prospects for passage when Congress returns in November remain unclear. As noted in a USA Today article, House Republicans are split over the bill, with some objecting to the cost of the bill, especially for the Food Stamp program and agricultural subsidies.

IN THE KNOW: Upcoming Events & Previous Events.

Upcoming Events (listed by date):

Events This Past Week:






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