116th Congress Sworn in; President Signs Bill Supportive of UR

The 116th Congress was sworn in on January 3, 2019. The most diverse House ever, including 10 new scientists, chose Nancy Pelosi (D–CA) as speaker. She is the first person in more than six decades, since the legendary Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, to return to the speaker’s chair. She received 220 votes, with 15 Democrats withholding their support. Longtime ally Steny Hoyer (D–MD) will be the majority leader, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–CA) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R–LA) will head the Republican leadership.

The 116th Congress convened on day 13 of a partial federal government shutdown, and neither House Democrats nor the White House seem near negotiating a resolution. The White House wants $5 billion for a southern border wall, whereas House Democrats state that $1.3 billion is sufficient. House leaders maintain that they have provided a way out of the standoff by passing two pieces of legislation: one a package of six spending bills negotiated on a bipartisan basis in the Senate that would reopen nearly all the federal agencies and the second a temporary spending bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security through February 8. The six-bill package passed the House 241–190 on January 3, and the Homeland Security spending bill passed 239–192. A handful of Republicans broke ranks on each measure to vote yes with the Democrats. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) refuses to give either proposal any floor time in the Senate. If the impasse is resolved by the week of January 14, it might allow the 116th Congress to complete FY 2019 spending plans and to take its first recess the week of January 21.  

The shutdown affects nine of the 15 federal agencies. About 420,000 employees at these agencies, deemed essential, are working without pay, whereas 380,000 federal employees have been placed on unpaid leave. Although the shutdown does not affect the Department of Education, the broader education and research communities are a different matter. Higher education institutions are struggling with management of campus federal research efforts funded by the National Science Foundation and other research agencies. The Department of Agriculture supports food programs that help students and families. The Department of Justice supports mentoring and other programs important to schools and agencies. The National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities are closed. Although undergraduate research supporter Kelvin Droegemeier was confirmed by the Senate to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy, that office is also closed during the shutdown.  

In addition, the shutdown will almost certainly delay the release of the president’s FY 2020 budget request, originally scheduled for delivery by February 4. The Office of Management and Budget, which creates the annual spending request for the White House, as well as the rest of the Executive Office of the President, is closed due to the lapse of funding for that part of the government.

As the House finalizes its committee memberships, its Education and the Workforce Committee has a new name: the Education and Labor Committee. In the Senate, education advocates will see some new faces on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel.  Senators Mike Braun (R–IN), Mitch Romney (R–UT), and Jacky Rosen (D–NV) will be joining the panel. Senators Michael Bennet (D–CO) and Todd Young (R–IN) are leaving the panel, and Senator Orrin Hatch (R–UT) retired.

Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX) has taken the helm of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and has signaled an intention to return to the subject of climate change. Representative Frank Lucas (R–OK) will be the top Republican on the panel. In the Senate, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will have new leadership on both sides of the aisle.  Senator Roger Wicker (R–MS) will chair the panel, and Senator Maria Cantwell (D–WA) will be the new ranking member, as Senator Bill Nelson (D–FL) was not reelected.

President Signs Bill Supporting Undergraduate Research
On December 31, 2018, the president signed the Innovations in Mentoring, Training and Apprenticeships Act. The act directs the National Science Foundation to provide grants for research about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education approaches and STEM-related workforce issues. The bill provides for a maximum of $40 million in funding, subject to appropriations. The bill was introduced by Senator Kevin McCarthy (R–CA) in 2018, and during the drafting and review process, CUR asked staff to ensure that the bill included “research opportunities.” The act states that “[t]he Director shall award grants to institutions of higher education partnering with private sector employers or private sector employer consortia, or industry or sector partnerships, that commit to offering apprenticeships, internships, research opportunities, or applied learning experiences to enrolled students in identified STEM baccalaureate degree programs.” The bill’s provisions and its enactment are a testament to the strong relationships between CUR and congressional staff, as well as the benefits of continued advocacy across Congresses and administrations.      


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