The science committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has a long history of expressing bipartisan support for research. But science lobbyists have grumbled that the panel has become highly partisan in recent years, stacked with conservative Republicans who don’t necessarily believe that research spending is a high priority.
Yesterday’s vote to end the 16-day government shutdown may feed such perceptions. The bipartisan deal offered by the Democratic-controlled Senate was not popular in the Republican-controlled House. It won the support of only 38% of 232 Republicans while attracting unanimous support among Democrats. But the measure fared much worse within the 22-member Republican delegation on the science committee.
In fact, only one Republican on the panel—freshman Kevin Cramer of North Dakota—voted yea. Every other member, from Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) on down, nixed the agreement to fund the government for another 3 months and extend the nation’s ability to borrow money while both sides try to negotiate a long-term solution to the financial crisis.
Even Cramer’s support was half-hearted, however. In a short press release that doesn’t actually mention how he voted, the legislator describes the measure as “a short-term solution which will finally bring both sides to the table to further correct our federal deficit. It is far from ideal; however, we cannot let the pursuit of perfection be the enemy of improvement.”
That argument didn’t cut any ice with one Republican who has been a staunch supporter of basic research. Representative Randy Hultgren (R-IL), whose district borders the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has been outspoken about the need for the federal government to invest in fundamental research that the private sector will not support. But he voted against the 3-month extension of funding every federal agency, with his fear of a growing national debt apparently trumping his passion for science.
“The Senate and President have chosen to add $1 trillion to our debt for an agreement with no teeth, all the while ignoring our massive debt that threatens our economy and our future,” he said in a statement explaining his nay vote. “The debt crisis is not make-believe, and I was not elected to stand by while we sacrifice our children’s future for short-term political gain. … It’s ridiculous to pay lip service to addressing our debt every few months and then do nothing.”
Panel chair Smith echoed such concerns in a statement explaining his vote against the deal: “I did not support the legislation because it failed to address our growing national debt and the need to get our economic house in order.”