November 23, 2016
There will be several notable absences in the next Congress; Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who has been a resolute defender and vocal proponent of science, is retiring. Notably, she was the ranking member on the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Committee; she will be replaced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), who is the current ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Space, unsuccessfully sought Senator Mikulski’s seat, losing to Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Lastly, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA-17), who is the current Ranking Member of the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee and an unwavering advocate of science research, lost his reelection to Congressman-elect Ro Khanna (D-CA-17).
On the other hand, Senator Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) ascension to the GOP leadership is a hopeful sign for science supporters, as he currently sits on the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee and has been a strong supporter of the COMPETES Act throughout his Senate tenure. Senator Manchin, who has a record of funding science research, is the only future member of the Democratic Leadership who currently sits on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
Decisions of who will chair a committee can have a significant effect on what legislation is passed by that committee. A prominent example of this is Rep. Lamar Smith’s (R-TX-21) stewardship of the House Space, Science, and Technology Committee; an examination of the Committee’s press releases and letters are excellent indicators of how he has prioritized the Committee’s time and resources. One upcoming vacancy to keep an eye on will be for the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Due to party-imposed term limits, Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI-6) will soon vacate his chairmanship; Rep. Shimkus (R-IL-15) and Rep. Walden (R-OR-2) are both reportedly eyeing the job. Rep. Shimkus’ appointment would likely reignite the discussion over nuclear waste disposal and Yucca Mountain.
Once again, there are many unknowns about what may transpire next year. However, one thing is certain: as the beginning of the 115th Congress approaches, so do important decisions regarding the country’s future and how it will invest in Earth and space science research, development, and education. If one of your Representatives or Senators is a member of leadership, listed above, or newly elected, now is a great time to contact them and ask them to support science.`
Scientific organizations, including AGU, will be keeping a close eye on what’s happening in the 115th Congress. If you would like to stay up-to-date on science policy issues and events in Congress and the White House, sign up for AGU’s Science Policy Alerts here.