Representative Bart Gordon (D–TN) lost his gamble today on behalf of the U.S. research community. The retiring chair of the House Science and Technology Committee watched dejectedly as a revised version of a bill to foster research and innovation went down to defeat on the House floor this morning for a second time in less than a week. Although legislators voted 261 to 148 in favor of it, it failed to win the supermajority required in this case.
Gordon won approval from the Democratic leadership to bring the America COMPETES Act to a speedy vote under a rule that prohibits amendments and limits debate but which require a two-thirds majority. The bill authorizes significant spending increases for the National Science Foundation, science at the Department of Energy, and two research agencies within the Department of Commerce. The first version (HR 5116) was derailed last Thursday in a parliamentary maneuver in which opponents added language cracking down on federal workers who view electronic pornography. Not wanting to appear to be in favor of pornography, supporters reluctantly voted for the amendment to recommit the bill, which was then pulled from consideration.
Gordon thought he had overcome that obstacle by incorporating the anti-pornography language into the new bill (HR 5325). He also accepted Republican demands to reduce the length of the bill from 5 years to 3 years, thereby lowering its overall price tag by several billion dollars. "I understand the concern of many of my colleagues about the overall size of a 5-year authorization, and this reduction is my sincere attempt at compromising on an issue that is very important to me. The bill before us today includes an overall funding reduction of almost 50% from H.R. 5116, as introduced," said Gordon during floor consideration.
But the changes weren't enough. Although every Democrat supported the new version, it won the votes of only 15 Republicans. Gordon needed a dozen more converts to gain the necessary two-thirds majority.