July 8, 2011

Week in Review

By Christy Gullion

New Staff Member in the Office of Federal Relations:  On Tuesday, Sarah Martin Castro joined the OFR team in our Washington, DC office as our new Associate Director.  Sarah comes to us after several years as the government relations officer for the University of Missouri System.  She has also worked on Capitol Hill for a House member of the Missouri federal delegation and at a public relations firm here in DC.  Sarah replaces Jonathan Nurse who left in early March to work for the American Association of Dental Research.  Sarah can be reached at smcastro@uw.edu or 202-624-1426. 

Debt Decision Time:  President Obama and Congressional leaders will meet over the weekend, when it is expected they will know whether a major deficit reduction deal is possible.   All parties want an agreement on deficit reduction as soon as possible to provide sufficient time for Congress to draft, debate, and pass the legislation to increase the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit before the August 2nd date, which is when the Treasury says it will no longer have enough money to pay all its debts and obligations.  The President is pushing for a large deficit reduction deal totaling about $4 trillion over the next decade, although three different proposals have been discussed:  a “small” $2 trillion plan, a $3 trillion alternative, and the larger plan to cut deficits by more than $4 trillion.  The size of any eventual deal likely rests on the willingness of Republican leaders to agree to revenue increases to reduce the deficit.  A larger package might also include more significant changes to Medicare and Social Security.  Democrats are worried about the possible cuts to entitlement programs and have vowed to oppose any debt reduction deal that cuts them dramatically.  We’ll all know more by Sunday.

Proposed Cuts to Graduate Medical Education Funding:  Major reductions in GME support for teaching hospitals and physician training remain under careful consideration among high-level negotiators as part of the debt negotiations.  President Obama has suggested that GME cuts are “on the table” and may be considered to reach agreement with Republican leaders.  UW School of Medicine has weighed in with congressional members throughout the WWAMI region on how these potential cuts will impact our ability to train primary care and family medicine physicians.  Next week, UWSOM Dean Paul Ramsey will meet with Members on Capitol Hill to urge them to reject GME cuts.

FY12 Appropriations Update:   This week, House appropriators released draft spending bills for Interior-Environment, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Legislative Branch.  The FY12 Energy-Water and Financial Services bills have already been voted out of committee and are awaiting floor action.  FY12 bills funding Defense, Agriculture, Military-VA, and Homeland Security already passed the House and were sent to the Senate for action.   House leaders hope to approve these nine of the 12 annual measures before the House leaves for August recess.  That leaves the three most controversial bills – Transportation-Housing, Labor-HHS-Education, and State-Foreign Operations – waiting until September for action.  The Senate, meanwhile, is moving much more slowly on their FY12 bills.  So far, they have only released their FY12 Military-VA bill.

Proposed Cuts to the NSF Construction Fund:  Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) fights back against proposed cuts to the NSF MREFC account that could affect the Ocean Observing Initiative (OOI).  Read more.     

House Panel Proposes Cuts to NEH Budget:  Yesterday, a House appropriations subcommittee approved legislation that would provide $20 million less to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in FY12 than the agency is receiving this year. The measure would allocate $135 million to the NEH, which would represent a reduction of 13 percent.  In an e-mail alert Thursday urging advocates for the humanities to oppose the measure, the National Humanities Alliance said that “these disproportionate cuts would compromise the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission.” The National Endowment for the Arts would also receive $135 million under the subcommittee’s bill, which the full Appropriations Committee is expected to take up next Tuesday.

UW Joins Colleagues to Support ARPA-E Funding:  The UW signed on to a Community Letter to the House in Support of FY12 Funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA‐E) Program.  We support funding for FY12 at a level equal to at least the FY11 level of $180 million.

Patent Reform Bill Stalled in Senate:  The Senate has been unable to quickly vote on the House-passed version of Patent Reform, and it now looks increasingly likely that votes will have to be allowed on a couple of controversial amendments to the bill, which could cause further problems.  One amendment which has already proven to be an obstacle is the issue of patent office funding.  While the House version of the bill included language that directed revenue to be continued to be handled through the appropriations process, a larger group of Senators continue to push for allowing USPTO to keep all of the revenue it generates from fees.  It is expected that the House would refuse any alteration made to the fee structure by the Senate.  Also holding up the process is the refusal by many in both chambers to discuss any other issues until the debt ceiling debate is resolved.

House Recess in Jeopardy:  The House will skip its next legislative break and stay in session the week of July 18th in order to continue working on a debt limit deal.  The next planned recess begins August 6th, after the Treasury Department’s deadline to raise the debt ceiling, when lawmakers will break until after Labor Day.

New Effort for Research on Global Development:  NSF and the Agency for International Development (USAID) on Thursday announced a new effort to promote research on global development.  Projects will be selected through peer review, and the National Academy of Sciences will administer the program.  Learn more.

National Science Board Seeking Nominations:  The NSB is seeking nominees for candidates to serve on the NSB for the years 2012-2018. All nominations will be given full consideration; the President nominates candidates who must be confirmed by the US Senate to serve on the Board.  Nominations are open through August 12, 2011.  The NSB is the 25-member policymaking body for NSF and advisory body to the President and Congress on science and engineering issues.  Drawn from industry and universities, and representing a variety of science and engineering disciplines and geographic areas, NSB members are selected for their eminence in research, education, or public service, and records of distinguished service.  NSB members are appointed for six-year terms.  The NSF director is an ex officio member of the NSB.  There is more information about the National Science Board and the nomination process online.

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