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With the clock ticking down on the start of the new fiscal year and Election Day, it came as no surprise that November 8 campaign priorities won out over October 1 budget obligations. Congress left town without passing the required set of 12 appropriations bills needed to keep the government operating beyond September 30. Instead, as in almost every year during the last two decades, lawmakers resorted to a continuing resolution that would put federal programs on autopilot and extend existing activities through at least December of this year.
Even passage of that stopgap measure proved politically challenging.
Senate Republicans demanded that the $1.1 billion in emergency funding for the Zika virus be offset with cuts to other programs, and that Planned Parenthood of Puerto Rico be barred from using any of the funds. Democrats objected, and the impasse temporarily threatened a government shutdown.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) insisted on adding a provision to the short-term spending bill that would prevent the White House from transferring oversight of world-wide-web domain name registrations to a Los-Angeles-based multinational private organization known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Finally, Democratic language to raise the Export-Import Bank loan limit above $10 million ran into a buzz saw of conservative opposition in the Senate. What should have been a well-paved path to an early exit from the Capitol turned into an acre of quicksand.
And those were only the obstacles in the Senate. Across the way, the far-right GOP House Freedom Caucus, the nemesis of the Republican leadership, threatened to hold up passage of any continuing resolution that would allow a “lame-duck” session (i.e., one that meets after the November general elections) of Congress to write a spending bill for fiscal year 2017. They insisted on a resolution that would either carry through the middle of March or cover the full fiscal year.
Desperate to avoid a government shutdown, legislators finally agreed to a December 9 termination date. The internecine battles will likely resume then, unless lawmakers decide that the holidays are more important than partisan jousting and either pass combined appropriations bills (one or several) or extend the continuing resolution until sometime into the new calendar year.
Members of Congress who authorize programs in each chamber arguably made somewhat better although still limited progress. The Senate passed bipartisan bills authorizing science activities housed in the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy, while the House managed only to pass an Energy authorization bill almost entirely along partisan lines. It remains for House and Senate Energy conferees to try to resolve their differences in conference, which will be a challenging task given the hyper-partisanship in the House.
A House rule — in effect for the last four years — that requires authorizations above current spending levels to be offset with cuts from other programs has made it extremely difficult for lawmakers to take a long-range outlook. The Senate Energy bill, for example, authorizes Office of Science expenditures only one year ahead. In essence, the House rule has made authorizers almost superfluous, except for policy considerations. But there is little chance the rule will be eliminated unless the House changes hands.
At the 2016 APS April Meeting and the Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics meeting, 652 attendees contacted Congress about the priorities of the physics community, prime among them sustained science funding. At the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) site leader meeting on July 17, 2016 in Sacramento, APS Government Relations Specialist Greg Mack held a workshop focused on advocacy for state funding of PhysTEC sites via the Every Student Succeeds Act, which became federal law in December 2015, replacing the Bush era "No Child Left Behind" act.
As a benefit to APS members and others in the physics community, visits by APS Washington office staff to Wisconsin, Ohio, and Tennessee in the second half of the year have highlighted the importance of advocacy for physics. If you'd like us to visit your home state and provide resources for grassroots advocacy, contact Greg Mack at email@example.com.
APS Director of Public Affairs Michael S. Lubell published an op-ed in The Hill on September 9 highlighting the destructive impact of congressional budgetary dysfunction on science.
Piali De, co-founder and CEO of Senscio Systems, authored a guest editorial September 2 in the Vermillion Plain Talk in South Dakota on the link between scientific research and innovation.
APS member Mina Hanna, a software consultant at Synopsys, published an op-ed in The Houston Chronicle on August 23, arguing that science should not be politicized, as it benefits all Americans.
Have something important to say? APS Members have a resource in Press Secretary, Tawanda Johnson. Contact her with your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
APS, in partnership with the American Chemical Society (ACS) and Materials Research Society (MRS), recently launched a first-of-its-kind website, connecting researchers who use liquid helium with vendors of equipment that reduces helium consumption.
APS is hosting the website in response to recommendations included in the recently released Panel on Public Affairs report, “Responding to the U.S. Research Community’s Liquid Helium Crisis: An Action Plan to Preserve U.S. Innovation.” The report is available at the Liquid Helium Crisis webpage.
The report, produced in collaboration with ACS & MRS, outlines the importance of liquid helium to the U.S. research enterprise and highlights the issues currently confronting researchers in the face of increasing prices and unreliable supply. It offers a series of actionable recommendations that could have a transformative effect on the ability to maintain a ready availability of helium. The website should prove beneficial to researchers considering solutions to the liquid helium dilemma.
Website visitors can quickly learn whether investing in new equipment, which either dramatically reduces or eliminates their helium use, might make economic sense for them. The website provides contact information for multiple vendors that specialize in systems that recycle helium and/or are cryogen-free. The website also enables researchers to submit contact information and have vendors reach out to them directly. Additionally, the website includes information on various helium conservation technologies. For more information, visit the Helium: Reduce Your Use website.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Rachel Gaal
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Art Director and Special Publications Manager: Kerry G. Johnson
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik