SPECIAL UPDATE: Lame Duck Punts, Next Congress To Address Spending Bills

(Posted 11-15-02; Corrected 11-18-02)

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: Although the 107th Congress held a brief post-election session this week, action on the remaining FY 2003 appropriations bills and energy legislation will wait for the new year and the Republican-controlled 108th Congress. The House has already adjourned after passing legislation to create a new Department of Homeland Security as well as a long-term continuing resolution that funds non-defense federal agencies at last year's levels through January 11, 2003. The Senate is expected to follow suit. Among a number of small bills that did pass is a reauthorization of the Sea Grant program within NOAA. Looking ahead to the 108th Congress, this special update also includes a brief rundown of new Republican committee chairs.


If you blinked this week, you might have missed the post-election (often referred to as a "lame duck") session of the 107th Congress. The House has already recessed, and the Senate will be leaving soon. Before the election, both chambers agreed to return to Capitol Hill this week to finish up some of the business still left on its docket, including 11 of the 13 obligatory appropriations bills for fiscal year (FY) 2003, which began on October 1st. Others remaining include a comprehensive energy bill, legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, and a slew of smaller bills that are just a vote away from the president's desk but otherwise will expire in January when the new Congress takes office.

By the morning after Election Day, it was apparent that the new Republican leadership in the Senate would await the start of the 108th Congress to consider most of these matters and that the lame-duck session would accomplish little. For his part, President Bush announced last week that he would like to see spending bills finished but that homeland security legislation was the top priority -- he wanted a bill on his desk before the 107th Congress adjourned.

Responding to the president's priority, the House passed a homeland security bill (H.R. 5710, a re-write of H.R. 5005) before ending its short lame-duck session on November 14th. Although the Senate remains under the nominal control of the Democrats, their opposition to the homeland security measure -- largely related to concerns over worker unionization, applicability of the Freedom of Information Act, and several other matters -- has weakened in the wake of the election, and they are expected to pass the House measure. Please see the November 2002 Geotimes for a discussion of how the new department may affect the geosciences (http://www.geotimes.org/nov02/scene.html).

FY 2003 Appropriations

Nearly two months into FY 2003, it looks like Congress has decided how it will approach the federal spending bills -- leave them for the next guys. The other major action taken by the House before leaving town was to pass a long-term continuing resolution (CR), H.J. Res 124, that will fund the federal government until January 11, 2003. The Senate is expected to approve the House-passed CR, which keeps most of the federal government at FY 2002 base levels -- a level that translates into a funding decrease for most programs because of inflation. The only programs unaffected are military since the two defense-related appropriations bills have already been enacted. Like earlier CR's, this one does not allow federal agencies to initiate any new activities. Unlike earlier ones, however, it provides $500 million for the new Department of Homeland Security, plus allowances for transfers of another $140 million from other agencies.

Although the latest CR has an expiration date of January 11th, there is talk that the new Congress could decide to fund the remaining half of FY 2003 with a CR that expires on the last day of the fiscal year -- September 30, 2003. Because such a CR would deprive lawmakers of an entire year's worth of funding opportunities for their home district, the prospect of a full-year CR remains dim. More likely is an omnibus bill that bundles all of the remaining appropriations bills together. Independent of what approach the 108th Congress decides to take, it will most likely do it within its first few weeks, before the president releases the FY 2004 budget in early February.

A major question for the geoscience community is what will happen to the proposed funding increases for many earth science-related programs found in the current House and Senate bills. Because funding for agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey and National Science Foundation (NSF) has not been a partisan issue, it is hoped that the bills considered by the new Congress will largely mirror the funding levels provided in the current ones. Even without final approval, however, Congress has made clear its intention to restore cuts made in the president's FY 2003 request. It remains to be seen whether the administration will take such intentions into consideration when finalizing its next request.

Energy Policy

A conference committee of representatives and senators began meeting last summer to work out differences between the House and Senate versions of comprehensive energy legislation (H.R. 4) intended to establish a new national energy policy. Before breaking for the elections, the conference committee had worked out compromise language on hundreds of pages of bill text but had yet to find consensus on some of the largest issues -- such as the House provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas exploration and Senate provisions regarding climate change. The election results seemed to confirm the talk before the elections that the energy bill would be pushed off to the 108th Congress. But on November 13th, Conference Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) attempted to revive the debate by suggesting passage of a stripped-down bill that would include only provisions related to the Price-Anderson Act (insurance for nuclear power plants) and pipeline safety. Senate conferees quickly rejected the suggestion as did the White House, which indicated that any bill not including electric utility restructuring would be vetoed. Energy legislation will likely become one of the early issues for the 108th Congress.

Other Legislation

A few small, non-controversial authorization bills made it through before adjournment, including one to reauthorize the Sea Grant program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That bill, H.R. 3389, is expected to receive the president's signature even though it represents congressional rejection of the administration's proposal in its FY 2003 budget request to move Sea Grant to NSF. More on this bill at http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2002-26.msg. Legislation reauthorizing NSF -- calling for a doubling of the foundation's budget -- remains tied up in the Senate, and the topic will not be considered until next year. (Even as this update was sent out, its assessment of the NSF authorization bill was being proved wrong as both House and Senate passed the bill and sent it to President Bush for his signature in the wee hours of the morning of November 15th. AGI sent out a subsequent alert correcting this matter. See http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/nsfreauth_alert1102.html.)

Not So New Look for the 108th Congress

With the Senate returning to Republican control, many familiar faces from the first session of the 107th Congress -- before the switch of Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT) threw control to the Democrats -- will be back in charge. One difference is at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-AK), the current Ranking Member and previous chairman, will be leaving for the governor's mansion in Juneau. With his departure, the chairmanship goes to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), who is relinquishing his long-time position atop the Budget Committee to take on this role. Domenici also will chair the Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee, giving him a level of control over the Department of Energy (DOE) not seen since former Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA) chaired both in the early '90s. The failure of the 107th Congress to pass a comprehensive energy bill means that Domenici's committee will have a major role to play in crafting the next version. Outgoing Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) will become the Ranking Member.

Perhaps the most dramatic change will be at the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, which was chaired by Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT). Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) will serve as the new chairman of the committee since Jeffords' predecessor, Sen. Robert Smith (R-NH), was defeated in the primary. A major issue for EPW in the next Congress will be the reauthorization of the Clear Air Act as well as action on water infrastructure. Inhofe is likely to bring up the role of reformulated gasoline in the clear air debate. Early indications are that Inhofe will restructure the EPW subcommittees, but details won't be available until the 108th Congress convenes.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will regain the chairmanship of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, with Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) returning to the role of Ranking Member. The Appropriations Committee leadership will return to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). Within that powerful committee, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) will return as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on VA/HUD & Independent Agencies with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) serving as Ranking Member. The Interior subcommittee chairmanship will go to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), and the Ranking Member will be Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), also ranking on the full committee. As noted above, Domenici will also take over the Subcommittee on Energy & Water from Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who will remain as Ranking Member.

In the House, the chairmanship of several key committees for geoscience-related programs remains unclear at this point. In the Appropriations Committee, Chairman Bill Young (R-AK) will continue. The leadership of the subcommittees on Interior & Related Agencies and Energy & Water, however, is up for grabs. Rep. James Walsh (R-NY) will continue on as chairman of the VA/HUD subcommittee. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) will maintain his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) will continue to lead the Science Committee.

The biggest question in the House is who will serve as the chair of the Resources Committee. Current Chairman James Hansen (R-UT) is retiring and the next two highest members -- Tauzin and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) -- already have chairmanships, leaving Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), a moderate, as the next highest ranking Republican on the committee. Several other members are considering the position, but the final decision will not be known until the new Congress convenes in January. Western Republicans have had a lock on the committee since coming to power in 1995.

Special update prepared by Margaret A. Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire, Library of Congress, New York Times, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and Washington Post.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted November 15, 2002; Last updated November 18, 2002

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