The House Science Committee Is a Circus

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 22 2014 10:37 AM

Circus of the House Science Commitee

164048005-house-science-space-and-technology-committee-chairman
And in this clause, we take away some funding for research midway through the fiscal year. Good luck with the adjustments!

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

FIRST, a bill written by two Republicans, Reps. Lamar Smith and Larry Bucshon, is universally hated by scientists. It would make them do more paper pushing, and harm the research process. It has a few worthy parts—including a scheme to expand computer science training—but on the whole it is terrible. Democrats, boffins, and even the former head of Lockheed Martin dislike what it proposes. But it has been pushed hard in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology because Smith chairs it. On Wednesday the full committee was called to hear proposed amendments to the bill.

The proposed changes—and the debates they provoked—played out along two lines. Democrats fear that the United States is falling behind the rest of world, and more government funding for science is needed to prevent this slide. Republicans fear that America is falling behind their vision of the country as a thrifty, God-fearing one (where there’s little room for such arrogance as thinking humans could change the climate), and stopping the government from doing all the things they don’t like is the key to righting the course. Democrats repeatedly called to amend FIRST as a new iteration of America COMPETES, a bipartisan act signed by President George W. Bush and reauthorized by President Obama in 2010. (The renewal has expired.) American science needs more funding and less congressional red tape, they urge. Republicans replied that in a “fiscally constrained environment,” science must be trimmed and inefficiencies fished out.

Advertisement

An hour and a half into the session, two astonishing things happened. Rep. Donna Edwards, a Maryland Democrat on the committee, pointed out something obvious. The bill being marked up proposes changes to spending for FY2014. The money has already been appropriated, the scientific bodies the bill regulates are already spending it, and the fiscal year will be more than three-quarters of the way complete by the time a bill could reach the House floor for a vote. Should it pass, agencies would have to scramble to meet reconfigured budgets. FIRST proposes specific funding allocations to specific types of research. Some fields (such as social sciences, behavioral sciences, and geosciences) would be aggressively cut, and the National Science Foundation would need to reshuffle research funding late in the fiscal year in order to avoid exceeding these new numbers. How on Earth would that work? It was, in fact, “highly irresponsible” that the bill was even still being discussed. Smith stuttered so pitifully in struggling to answer her, you almost felt sorry for him.

Yet in the face of that absurdity, the session just muddled forward. Smith moved on to the next amendment, as though the purpose of the hearing hadn’t just been exposed as pointless. If Smith is looking for ways to prune inefficiency, he need look no further than his own committee.

Boer Deng is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.