Government Relations

Government Relations Legislative Update

Government Relations Legislative Update

Updates on state and federal issues relating to the UW System.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Federal Update for January 25


The House reconvenes on Tuesday, January 26, to consider several bills on suspension, as well as a bill to establish a national historic site in the Virgin Islands and legislation dealing with water diversions on federal land in Idaho. The chamber will not be in session after Wednesday because House Republicans are holding their annual policy retreat from Thursday through Saturday.

The Senate is expected to continue consideration of the debt limit legislation and to consider the nomination of Ben Bernanke for a second term as chair of the Federal Reserve Board.


President Obama will deliver his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, January 27. The speech is expected to focus on jobs and fiscal responsibility. Watch for excerpts of the speech from the UW System Office of Federal Relations on Thursday.

On the same day Obama gives his speech, top House Budget Republican Paul D. Ryan (1st CD-Wisconsin) will be releasing an updated comprehensive plan to control future debts and deficits. First released in May 2008 — and perhaps the only detailed plan that has been presented by any lawmaker to address the long-term fiscal problem — Ryan's original "Roadmap for America's Future" proposed to overhaul major federal entitlements and the tax code to "transform the federal government" and make it financially sustainable. Among its proposals were to preserve the current Medicare and Social Security programs for those 55 and older, while modifying it for younger individuals in order to significantly reduce projected future spending. It also proposed overhauling the tax system by giving individuals the choice to continue paying taxes under current law or through a simplified new tax system with just two rates. The new plan will be updated to reflect the new fiscal and economic situation, reflecting the dramatic decline in our economic and fiscal condition and using updated CBO estimates.


At a January 21 hearing of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu discussed the importance of clean energy research and development in addressing the nation's energy, climate, and economic challenges. He also expressed concern that R&D had been missing from much of the discussion about energy and climate legislation.

The Secretary's written statement said that along with providing the technological breakthroughs needed to steeply reduce greenhouse gases, the investment in energy R&D would drive innovation across the economy, maintain American competitiveness, and create jobs and entire new industries. He noted the example of a battery company funded by the Department of Energy that has developed a cutting-edge battery technology for hybrid and electric vehicles. The company is now using Recovery Act funds to help build a new manufacturing plant in Michigan.

Secretary Chu also mentioned that when the Department was preparing for the first grant competition at the new Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, the "technical community responded heroically" after he asked research university presidents to provide names of the best scientists and engineers to help review proposals. (UW System President Reilly provided names for consideration). The individuals selected to participate helped ARPA-E review 3,700 applications in just a few short weeks, he said.


Also, last week at a January 19 hearing, House Committee on Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon announced his intention to move the America COMPETES Act through the House before the Memorial Day recess. COMPETES is the landmark legislation to strengthen national economic competitiveness through investments in science technology, engineering and math education. It sets science research agencies on a doubling path (NIST, NSF, and DOE Office of Science). It addresses the need for innovation in the energy sector by creating an Advanced Research projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to pursue high-risk, high-reward energy technology development.


In a similar vein, the Council on Undergraduate Research has an opportunity to host a Congressional Briefing on Tuesday, February 23, to report on the results of its June 2009 Transformative Research Summit and showcase examples of transformative research. The briefing is being sponsored by the House STEM Education Caucus, which is chaired by Rep. Dan Lipinski and Rep. Verne Ehlers. UW-SP faculty member Mike Zach and a UW-SP student have been invited to be panelists to discuss the potential for transformative research at primarily undergraduate institutions like the UW System comprehensive campuses. The UW System Office of Federal Relations and the Council on Undergraduate Research are working to bring the importance of science education at liberal arts colleges and undergraduate research to the attention of Members of Congress and their staff.


The U.S. Department of Education announced that 40 states (including Wisconsin) and the District of Columbia submitted applications to be considered for Phase 1 of the Race to the Top competition. Winners of the first awards will be announced in April. The second round of applications from states will be due in June, with winners announced in September. States that apply, but do not win in Phase 1, may reapply for Phase II.

President Obama has announced his intention to propose in his Fiscal Year 2011 budget $1.35 billion to continue Race to the Top, along with his intention to expand the competition to include local school districts that are committed to reform. The President's budget is expected to be submitted on February 1.

(AAU, U.S. DOE ED REVIEW, and UW System Office of Federal Relations contributed to this report.)