Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Individual Stimulus Package Negotiations Continue; New Report Reiterates America’s Potential Decline in Science and Engineering

Prior to the House recessing on October 2, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin began broad COVID-19 talks again as pressure continues to mount for Congressional action and the President and members of his administration have tested positive for the virus. On October 1, Democrats moved forward in passing (214–207) on the House floor their $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill (an updated version of the HEROES Act, also known as HEROES 2.0) offered as an amended version of H.R. 925. No Republicans joined in favor. This is the House’s sixth piece of comprehensive legislation to respond to the pandemic. In this version, the House authorized $2.9 billion for National Science Foundation (NSF), of which $2.6 billion was for research and related activities until September 30, 2022. Additionally, $4.721 billion was authorized for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand COVID-19-related research on the NIH campus and at academic institutions across the country and to support the shutdown and startup costs of biomedical research laboratories nationwide. Of this amount, $4.021 billion was for the Office of the Director with at least $3 billion of that money for research relief to resume pre-pandemic research and the other $1.021 billion for additional scientific research. However, another COVID measure, more palatable to Republicans, could come up for a vote if the two negotiators can reach an agreement in the $1.5 trillion to $2.2 trillion range.

Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is not so optimistic since any bill costing $2.2 trillion bill is, as he described it, “too high.” There are also policy differences remaining such as a need for liability protection from frivolous lawsuits arising from the virus and lack of money for community policing grants, formerly in the Democrats’ original $3.4 trillion HEROES proposal in May. After the President had talks with the Republican leadership in both chambers, he told them to stop negotiations last week but later reversed his position. The White House has said it wants a $1.8 trillion relief package. Additional attempts to pass standalone assistance bills, including for airlines and individual stimulus checks, are expected prior to November 3. However, a final agreement is unlikely given the Senate’s focus on confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, as the federal research and development enterprise continues to reel from COVID-19’s impact, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a new report, “The Perils of Complacency: America at a Tipping Point in Science & Engineering,” that builds on its 2014 recommendations and points out how China has begun to surpass the U.S. in peer-reviewed publications and patents and spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. Factors such as human, knowledge, and financial capital, as well as the innovation ecosystem, are all areas that impact innovation.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • Secure America’s leadership in science and engineering research, especially basic research, by providing sustainable federal funding and setting long-term investment goals
  • Ensure that the American people receive the maximum benefit from federal investments in research
  • Regain America’s standing as an innovation leader by establishing a more robust national government/university industry research partnership.