America Competes Act fails again

House Democrats on Wednesday tried again — and failed again — to advance a $48-billion bill reauthorizing a slew of science and technology research programs.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) introduced the America Competes Act this morning using the House's suspension process in an attempt to steer the legislation clear of all amendments. Democrats had no choice but to try that approach after a politically advantageous package of GOP changes — which included a measure blocking federal dollars from going to employees caught viewing porn on federal computers — forced even Democrats who supported the bill to vote it down.


However, the suspension process also set the bar higher for passage with two-thirds of members present, not a simple majority. Democrats found themselves unable to clear that hurdle on Wednesday, failing on a vote of 261-148 — even though they added both the pornography amendment and a massive funding cut to their bill to win GOP support.

Wednesday's outcome "disappointed" Gordon, he said shortly after the vote, though he added he remains "determined" to get the legislation back to the floor. House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) later echoed that call, promising to bring the bill to the floor under a rule "soon."

 “As I’ve said before, this bill is too important to let fall by the way-side. More than half of our economic growth since World War II can be directly attributed to development and adoption of new technologies," Gordon said.

Democrats initially believed they could reach the two-thirds vote threshold with the help of Republican members by adding the pornography ban while slimming the bill down from a five-year, $96-billion authorization to a three-year, $48 billion effort.

Both changes were among a total six amendments that GOP leaders attached to the first version of the bill, which Democrats pulled amid fears it would be returned to committee.

“I understand the concern of many of my colleagues about the overall size of a five year authorization, and this reduction is my sincere attempt at compromising on an issue that is very important to me," Gordon said earlier in the day during floor debate. "The bill before us today includes an overall funding reduction of almost 50 percent from H.R. 5116, as introduced."

But it became clearer early Wednesday that Republican House members remained unsatisfied with Democrats' research bill. The GOP issued a statement of policy just before the vote that slammed Gordon's effort for failing to incorporate all six of their revisions, especially those that some members believe would reduce or eliminate "numerous new and unnecessary" programs. 

"House Republicans strongly support basic research and development and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education," noted the release. "Unfortunately, H.R. 5325 does not meet these criteria. For these reasons, House Republicans oppose this bill."

That take provoked Hoyer's ire later Wednesday. The Democratic leader slammed his Republican colleagues for playing "political games" and "voting against a job-creating measure that had bipartisan support in committee and previously passed the House."

"The bill on the Floor today was changed to add revisions Republicans asked for, and there was no reason for them to oppose it," he said. 

"Today’s action makes it very clear that Republicans are not fighting for the American people, they are fighting for their own political self-interest," Hoyer added.