This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies
IN A NUTSHELL: The Senate unanimously passed legislation to reauthorize the National Geologic Mapping Act; having passed the House in identical form in March, the bill is now cleared for the President's signature. In other news, the Senate passed the appropriations bill funding NSF, NASA, and EPA by a vote of 99-1, and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee passed NSF authorization legislation. The full Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Interior spending bill without significant changes. The House-Senate conference on tax legislation continues -- the House appears to have given up on eliminating the tax-exempt status of tuition waivers for graduate students, but has obtained a phased elimination of the tax-exempt status for TIAA-CREF. More details on these issues can be found on this AGI web site.
On Wednesday evening, the Senate passed the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1997 by unanimous consent. The bill had passed the House (H.R. 709) by voice vote in early March but its Senate counterpart (S. 317) has been stalled in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Earlier this month, Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) agreed to accept the House version of the bill, clearing the way for Senate passage. Having passed both houses in identical form, the legislation now goes to the President to be signed into law. Although no date has been set, the President is expected to sign the bill in the near future.
The bill authorizes spending for the U.S. Geological Survey's National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program -- which funds federal, state, and university mapping projects -- of $26 million in Fiscal Year 1998, $28 million in FY1999, and $30 million in FY2000. For FY1998, however, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have voted a $21.9 million funding level, the same as in FY1997 but $1.7 million more than the President requested. Bill supporters, led by the Association of American State Geologists, hope that passage of the reauthorization bill will encourage the Administration and congressional appropriators to increase support for the program in the coming years.
NSF Appropriations, Authorization Bills Advance
The full Senate passed the VA, HUD & Independent Agencies appropriations bill by a vote of 99-1 on Tuesday. This bill includes Fiscal Year 1998 funding for NSF, NASA, and EPA. No significant changes were made to the bill as it passed the Senate Appropriations Committee (reported in last week's update). The Senate provided a 3.3% increase for NSF, $10 million more than the President's request but considerably less than provided by the House. Both the House and Senate have now passed their own versions of the bill (H.R. 2158; S. 1034), and a conference will take place after the August recess.
The Senate Labor & Human Resources Committee marked up and passed S. 1046, which authorizes funding for the National Science Foundation in FY1998 and FY1999. The bill is similar to H.R. 1273, which passed the full House in April. Both bills provide for a 7.2% increase for NSF in FY1998. The House appropriations bill contains a similar increase, leaving the Senate appropriations bill (described above) as the low mark. NSF supporters hope that passage of the authorization bill, which now must pass the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee before going to the full Senate, will encourage Senate appropriators to defer to the House's higher numbers in conference.
Other Appropriations News
With the congressional August recess only days away, the bills are coming fast and furious. More details are available on the AGI web site, but here are the bare bones:
The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the Interior and Related Agencies spending bill without modifications to the budget of the USGS or other geoscience-related functions. The Senate passed S. 1033, the Agriculture appropriations bill, with $427.5 million for research and education activities in CSREES, an increase of more than $6 million over FY1997; the House has begun floor debate on H.R. 2160, its version of the agriculture bill.
The House Appropriations Committee passed the Commerce, State, Judiciary & Related Agencies spending bill on Tuesday, providing $1.83 billion for NOAA. That amount is $70 million less than the Administration's request and $160 million less than the Senate bill (S. 1022), which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee and is being debated on the Senate floor.
Tax Bill: Good News for Grad Students, Bad News for TIAA/CREF
House and Senate Republican conferees reached a tentative agreement Wednesday, July 23, on a tax bill. In good news for graduate students, Section 117(d) of the tax code, the tax exemption on tuition wavers, was left intact. Section 127 of the code was reauthorized for undergraduates for 3 years, allowing for employer-provided educational assistance to be given to an employee without tax accruing on the first $5,250 of the benefit. It appears that these benefits to students may have come at the expense of TIAA-CREF, whose long-standing tax exemption was repealed by the conferees. A significant number of members and employees of AGI's member societies contribute to TIAA-CREF retirement plans. According to TIAA-CREF, the Senate agreed to tax TIAA-CREF in exchange for the House dropping its phase-out of the Section 117(d). None of these decisions are final with many differences remaining between the Administration and Congress on this legislation, and it is highly unlikely that an agreement will be reached before the August recess.
Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated July 25, 1997