Everyone is back from Thanksgiving break and Congress is staring down a mountain of work.  Are they ready to tackle the their long to-do-list before the year ends?

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Timely Topics: PCAST & The Future of Research.

Capitol News.

  • Congress: House STEM Bill;Senate Immigration Bill; Climate Change in House; Farm Bill Movement; Student Loans; Carbon Tax; House Leadership; House Committees; Congressional Schedule.
  • Administration & Independent Agencies: EU Carbon Tax Bill; R&D Spending; Water Rights; Small Modular Reactors; NIH Open Access.
  • Courts: Patenting Genes.

Noteworthy News: Technology Transfer; College Support; IA Climate Scientists; Research Funding Justification; Student Loan Debt.

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

Timely Topic:

Research’s Future.  The President’s Council on Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report, Transformation and Opportunity: The Future of the U.S. Research Enterpriseand a webcast of the release event.  The report provides recommendations for the industry, universities and the Federal Government to improve research in the US, including increased investment in early-stage and basic research.  Some of the specific recommendations, as stated in the press release, include:

  • Increasing total R&D expenditures to 3 percent of gross domestic product from the current level of about 2.9 percent.
  • Congress and the Executive Branch should work together to find one or more mechanisms for increasing the stability and predictability of Federal research funding.
  • Make permanent the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit.
  • Eliminate unnecessary regulations and policies.
  • Change federal immigration policy to foster retention of STEM graduates from accredited U.S.

CAPITOL NEWS: Congressional, Administrative, and Court Actions


House STEM Bill: The Republican House passed the STEM bill mentioned in the posting Going, Going, Gone… despite objections from many House Democrats and the White House, which issued a Statement of Policy, or SAP. The STEM Jobs Act, provides more visas for foreigners who graduate with advanced science and engineering degrees from US institutions, but eliminates the Diversity Visa Program in the process.  Democrats oppose the ending of the Diversity Visa Program and also are worried that by carving out less controversial sections of immigration legislation, comprehensive reform becomes impossible.  While part of the attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters, this attempt to address immigration may be seen, on its own, as a distraction to that constituency, unless coupled with other actions. With limited time on the legislative calendar, the legislation, which now goes to the Senate, will likely be revisited next Congressional session.

Senate Immigration Bill.  Over in the Senate, Republican Senators Kyl (R-AZ) and Hutchison (R-TX) introduced immigration legislation, called an alternative to the DREAM Act, as one of their last acts prior to retiring.  Their legislation, ACHIEVE Act, does not provide an automatic path to citizenship, but instead creates a mechanism (via visas) for children brought to the US illegal to permanently remain in the US.  The proposal in includes three levels of W visas with multiple escalating requirements.  It generally allows young people (under age 28) who came to the US and remained since age 14, who speak English, have no felonies, join the military or attend college or vocational school, a pathway to a nonimmigrant permanent visa.

Climate Change. Congressmen Waxman (D-CA) and Rush (IL), the Ranking Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Subcommittee on Energy and Power, respectively, urged their Republican counterparts to hold a hearing on “the two major studies linking severe weather events to man-made global warming.”  Researchers based in Canada and Great Britain conducted the referenced studies. Meanwhile, according to the latest UN Environment Programme estimates, as reported in the Emissions Gap Report 2012, climate emissions continue to rise.

Farm Bill Becons?  With time running out, Congress and the Administration continue to hammer out a new farm bill.  As reported by Politico, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack convened a bipartisan, bicameral meeting of leaders of the Congressional Agriculture Committees hoping to move the process along more quickly.  The Senate passed its farm bill in June, but division among House Republicans has prevented a full vote in the House on the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the Farm Bill.

Student Loan Inquiry.  House Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Miller (D-CA) asked the Government Accountability Office to look into reported problems with the practices of several private student loan providers, as outlined recently in a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) report. He also wrote letters to the providers, including Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, and Citi Bank, directly requesting information on their practices.

Carbon Tax.  Although momentum for a carbon tax appears to be gaining steam among Republicans, Senator Vitter (R-LA) looks to halt the process.  Senator Vitter sent Treasury Secretary Geithner a letter questioning the role of Treasury in developing carbon tax and asked for his economic analysis of a proposed tax.

Congressional Leadership.  The House Republicans and Democrats announced their leaders, and much has remained the same.  There are some changes due to retirements or term-limits. The House Democratic Caucus re-elected Leader Pelosi (CA), Minority Whip Hoyer (MD), and Assistant Leader Clyburn (SC).  Congressman Becerra (CA) was elected as Caucus Chairman and Congressman Crowley (NY) was elected to Becerra’s former position of Vice Chair.  See the previous posting Who Runs Congress, for more on Republican Leaders.

Congressional Committees.  The House Republicans released their list of Committee Chairmen for the 113th Congress.  There are few surprises.  Some key Committee Chairman (some new, some returning) include:

Appropriations: Rogers (KY); Budget: Ryan (WI – Ryan received a term-limit waiver); Education: Kline (MN); Science: Smith (TX – new Chairman); Energy: Upton (MI); and Judiciary: Goodlatte (VA – new Chairman).

Schedule for Congress.   If you are heading to DC with the hopes of visiting the sites and seeing some Congressional Members, you may wish to plan ahead and view the Congressional schedules for 2013.  One warning, it may change, but probably not by a lot.  The House schedule is available at: and the Senate schedule is:


EU Carbon Tax.  As described in a previous post (Who Runs Congress), Congress passed a bill requiring the Transportation Secretary to prevent us-based airlines from complying with a proposed EU carbon tax.  As reported in USA Today, President Obama signed the bill

R&D Spending.  The National Science Foundation released data from its Higher Education Research and Development Survey showing that R&D grew 6.3% from FY10 to FY11, from $61.2 billion to $65.1 billion.  Higher education R&D increased an inflation-adjusted 4.3% in FY11.  Given the importance of R&D to the economic health of our Nation, an increase is good news.

Water Rights.  As access to water concerns many users, both domestically and internationally, the US and Mexico finalized an agreement to manage and share water from the Colorado River.  As The New York Times reports, the agreement allows the US to lower supplies during years of drought, and Mexico to store excess water during years when water is in surplus.  The agreement, which lasts five years, will also aid ecological conservation and restoration efforts.

Small Nuclear Reactors (SMR).  DOE announced a new effort to license small modular nuclear reactor designs through a private-public partnership program, as reported by the Nuclear Energy Institute.  Many believe that for the nuclear industry, SMRs may be the industries best hope for expansion.

TV Stars.  NASA is sponsoring public service announcements showcasing how NASA’s accomplishments are helping us back on Earth.  TV Stars, including Wil Wheaton and William Shatner, appear in the promotional videos.

Open Access at NIH.  NIH announced that starting next spring, NIH will review and block grants for research that is not published consistent with its open-access policy. This follows NIH’s four-year old policy requiring that research papers that result from NIH funded research must be available to the public within one year.


Patents and Biotechs.  As addressed in previous postings (Florida, Courts, and More) the future of patents for the biotech industry may be rockier depending on how courts rule in some cases, including the Myriad case.  As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the Supreme Court has agreed to review the case that covers the patentability of isolated human genes.


Technology Transfer.  Many successful companies, including biotech companies, have their roots at universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The New York Times explores some of the successes and delves into the role of the university technology licensing offices in getting the technology out to businesses.

College Support.  According to a poll conducted by Northeastern University, Insider Higher Education reports college attendees feel that college is a worthwhile investment.  Most Americans said that higher education needs to adapt to remain competitive internationally and that online education will continue to grow, in numbers and value.

IA Climate Science Advocates.  A group of over 130 scientists from Iowa issued an Iowa Climate Statement, according to Reuters.  The scientists, spurred by this year’s dramatic drought, raised their concern that global climate change will lead to future droughts and problems consistent with warmer weather.

Science Funding Prospects.  As the discussions on sequestration continue, discretionary funding, including for science programs, remain in jeopardy.  The Chronicle of Higher Education explores the challenges facing scientist and science programs to explain the public benefits, in real numbers, that stem from federal funding.  Without that data, lawmakers have a more difficult time justifying funding and avoiding cuts.

Student Loan Debt.  With easy access to federal loans is leading to increased debt, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, which refers to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report that student-loan debt increased to $956 billion, up $42 billion.  Many of the loans were made by private lenders prior to the move to direct loan programs in recent years.  The article also points out that problems disproportionately worse for students attending for-profit institutions.


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