GOP stops science bill
WASHINGTON — It was strike two for a major science funding bill yesterday as House Republicans again united to derail legislation they said was too expensive.
Going down to defeat was legislation that would have committed more than $40 billion over three years to boost funding for the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies involved in basic and applied science, provided loan guarantees to small businesses developing new technologies, and promoted science and math education.
Congress enacted a first version of the legislation in 2007 with a large majority in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate. But in this election year, with Republicans out to show their antispending credentials, things are different.
Republicans support science research, said Representative Ralph Hall of Texas, top Republican on the Science and Technology Committee. But the Democratic bill “continues to take us in a much more costly direction and authorizes a number of new programs which have little to do with prioritizing investments’’ in science and technology.
Committee chairman Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat, said he had made a “sincere attempt to compromise’’ with Republicans on a bill he said was essential to reversing trends over the past two decades where the United States has been losing its technological edge to other countries. Last week Republicans forced Democrats to pull the bill from the floor by pushing through an amendment that combined substantial cuts to many of the main initiatives in the bill with a provision cracking down on federal workers caught viewing pornography on their office computers.
Many Democrats, fearful that a vote against an antipornography measure could be used against them, went along with the GOP amendment.
The legislation presented yesterday restored the programs the Republicans tried to kill but reduced to three years, rather than five, the life of the measure, thus cutting the original $85 billion price tag to about $47 billion. It also included the anti-pornography provision.
But Democrats made a losing gamble by bringing the bill up under a procedure that prevented Republicans from offering more amendments but requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. The vote was 261 to 148 for passage, short of the two-thirds needed. Every Democrat supported it, but only 15 of 163 voting Republicans backed it.
House majority leader Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed Republicans continued to play political games, voting against a job-creating measure that had bipartisan support.’’ He said he planned to bring the bill back to the floor soon under normal rules requiring only a majority for passage.
Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, told his colleagues during a congressional hearing yesterday that millions of Americans gamble on the Internet each day, despite laws to prevent it. Citing industry analysts, McDermott said they wager nearly $100 billion annually, generating an estimated $5 billion for offshore operators.
He said the money would be put to better use in the United States and would create thousands of jobs for people who would be employed by licensed gambling sites.
“Regulation and taxation have proven to be a better policy for our country when it comes to alcohol,’’ McDermott said. “The same is true for online gambling.’’
Realistically, supporters realize that Congress is highly unlikely to pass legislation this year on the subject, but they hope to lay the groundwork for the future with hearings like the one yesterday before the House Ways and Means Committee.
While McDermott’s bill would provide for taxing Internet gambling, companion legislation from Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, would license and regulate the industry. The Treasury Department would be tasked with licensing operators that meet financial requirements and pass criminal background checks.
Frank’s legislation prohibits the operators from accepting sports bets as well as bets initiated in states or tribal lands that prohibit that particular type of Internet gambling. It has drawn support from online poker players.