November 21, 2014

Duck Season Now Open. What’s in Congress’ Sights?

Posted by Erik Hankin

By Erik Hankin, AGU Public Affairs

The 113th Congress returned to session last week after the mid-term elections. Democrats are seeking to compromise while they still have leadership of the Senate, and Republicans want to tie up loose ends to make room for more ambitious legislation in the 114th Congress when they take control of both chambers. The hope is that the lame duck Congress will be productive in passing fiscal year 2015 (FY15) appropriations, confirming nominees for administrative posts, and selecting party leadership positions for congressional committees.

AGU Public Affairs staff has been wearing through the rubber on our shoes this November, trying to gauge the likelihood of FY15 appropriations passing, and encouraging strong support for Earth and space sciences. We have heard many ideas as to what could happen: a full omnibus spending bill, a continuing resolution (CR), several mini-omnibuses or “minibuses”, and even a combination of CR and minibus (which we’re calling a “cromnibus”).

While not as delicious as a cronut (pictured above), a “cromnibus” would satisfy many folks’ appetites for FY15 appropriations.

While not as delicious as a cronut (pictured above), a “cromnibus” would satisfy many folks’ appetites for FY15 appropriations.

However, the President’s announcement of an Executive Action on immigration may have derailed appropriations for the rest of this calendar year. “Wait, that doesn’t make sense,” you may think. “Those two issues are totally unrelated.” And in truth, that is correct. However, Republican leadership warned the Administration that taking unilateral action on any major policy issue would be an affront to the legislative branch.

Our meetings with Capitol Hill staffers hinted that any executive action on immigration would force Congress’ hand to not pass a long-term budget bill. Republican leadership’s reaction to Obama’s immigration announcement has more than hinted that no one’s going to “play ball” until 2015, when the new Congress takes office.

Just because Congress is angry does not mean we are going to see another government shutdown when the current CR expires on 11 December; it is very likely that Congress will pass a short-term CR into early 2015. That said, it is still worth weighing in on the importance of Earth and space science funding, regardless of when appropriations do get passed. AGU Public Affairs staff will continue contacting congressional offices, and we hope AGU members do the same.

But just because appropriations seem less likely to pass doesn’t mean that Congress won’t do anything this lame duck session. There are numerous administrative nominees awaiting confirmation from the Senate. While many do not interact with science, some like Dr. Suzette Kimball, Acting Director of USGS, directly affect AGU membership. If you would like to contact your Senators and encourage them to confirm an administration nominee, please visit AGU’s Policy Action Center.

Republicans and Democrats are also currently busy voting on party and committee leadership. With Republicans taking control of the Senate, more committee leadership seats than usual are up for grabs. Chairmen of committees play a vital role in determining what issues will be taken up by Congress.

House Committee Chairs in 114th Congress.

House Committee Chairs in 114th Congress. Credit: National Journal

House Committee Ranking Members in 114th Congress. Credit: National Journal

House Committee Ranking Members in 114th Congress. Credit: National Journal

The House has already voted on committee leadership positions, and many directly affect Earth and space sciences in the United States. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) will succeed the retiring Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) as chair of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee, the body that sets funding amounts for NSF, NASA, and NOAA. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will take the place of retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will replace Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) as ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee.

Below are some dates to remember during this lame duck session. If you have any questions about how you can make sure the 113th Congress supports Earth and space science over the lame duck session, please email AGU Public Affairs. Your voice counts in reminding our elected officials that science is essential.

Key Dates in the 2014 Lame Duck Session:

  • 12-26 November – Party leadership selection results expected
  • 6 December – Louisiana Senate runoff election
  • 11 December – Expiration of current CR