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The House has now passed all twelve appropriations bills (legislation that sets aside money for government agencies and programs) out of committee, and six have seen final floor action. The Senate has passed only nine out of committee, and none have seen floor action. In both chambers, few Democrats have supported them. And the president, asserting that the pending bills are all based on sequestration caps that he believes should be eliminated, has threatened to veto every one.
The defense appropriations bill is the only one that breaks the caps, using the Department of Defense’s Overseas Contingency Operations fund as an off-budget vehicle to get around the legal restrictions. And it is the disparity between the Republican treatment of defense and non-defense spending that triggered a Democratic rebellion on the Senate floor. The FY16 defense bill easily cleared the appropriations committee on a 27-3 vote, but it failed to receive enough votes (50-45) to bring it to the floor for consideration.
Looking ahead to the culmination of the FY16 budget negotiations, it is appearing more and more likely that yet another Continuing Resolution is in the offing.
The American Research Investment Fund
As federal investment in fundamental science wanes, APS has been exploring other possible funding avenues for basic research (“Thinking Big and Outside the Box,” APS News, July 2015). One possibility is the creation of the American Research Investment Fund (ARIF). In order to create ARIF, Congress would have to first pass comprehensive corporate tax reform that would encourage repatriation of money held overseas by large corporations. Currently money held overseas, largely by high-tech companies like Google and Microsoft, totals more than $2.1 trillion. If a deal is struck to repatriate the money at a relatively low tax rate, 5 percent to 15 percent for example, it would create a one-time net recovery of $100 billion to $300 billion for the federal government. Congress could then authorize the use of $100 billion to endow ARIF. ARIF would invest the money and use the interest to sustain itself and to fund research. ARIF would be a public-private partnership and would be able to nimbly fund scientific research in a number of ways, from encouraging Congress to boost science budgets by providing matching funds, to supporting midscale activities that currently fall through the federal budget cracks.
The House version of the America COMPETES Act, which APS opposed, passed the House. There is no full COMPETES bill in the Senate; rather, there is a separate Energy title, and Senate Science Committee has put out a request for stakeholders to weigh in on the crafting the science portion of COMPETES. APS supports the Senate Energy title of COMPETES and has sent a letter urging lawmakers to use the Energy title as a blueprint for crafting the science portion of COMPETES.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act
As this issue of APS News is being prepared, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is being debated on the Senate floor, with a large number of amendments offered by both Republicans and Democrats. If the Senate bill passes, it will then be conferenced with the House bill, which passed the House the first week of July.
Of interest to physicists, a major difference between the two bills is that the House bill contains very little mention of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, whereas the Senate bill would maintain funding for the Math-Science Partnerships programs.
WASHINGTON OFFICE ACTIVITIES
The Houston Chronicle published an op-ed on June 30 by Chris Jeffrey, a recent graduate of the University of North Texas. Jeffrey made the case for supporting the Energy Title of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 — legislation that would bolster energy research, reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, and enable the development of energy-efficient technologies. Read the op-ed
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-11th) opined about “maintaining America’s global scientific leadership” in the May edition of Capitol Hill Quarterly, a newsletter produced by the APS Office of Public Affairs. Read the op-ed
Panel on Public Affairs
Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) members read through the overwhelmingly supportive comments of the APS membership on the proposed APS Statement on Earth’s Changing Climate. POPA is now making minor edits in response to those comments and will present the final statement to the APS Council for a vote this fall. If approved, it would become an official statement of APS.
The POPA Physics & the Public Subcommittee will be working with the American Institute of Physics on a survey this summer focused on overcoming the obstacles to recruiting teachers in the physical sciences. The project is being carried out in partnership with the American Chemical Society and the Computing Research Association.
A workshop intended to address the long-term challenges of helium supply and pricing will be held this fall. A study committee has been assembled and planning for the two-day meeting has begun. This project is being carried out in partnership with the American Chemical Society and the Materials Research Society (see the Liquid Helium article in this issue).
A template for study proposals can be found online, along with a suggestion box for future POPA studies.
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