The House and Senate convened the second session of the 115th Congress. After a brief partial government shutdown that began at midnight on January 19 and ended on January 22, the House and Senate enacted a continuing resolution to fund the government through February 8. The House and Senate enacted the FISA Amendments Authorization Act. The House also approved the World Bank Accountability Act, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Adjustment Act, and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The Senate also confirmed the new secretary of Health and Human Services Department and chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Budget and Immigration Stalemate Produces Brief Government Shutdown… More To Come?
On the anniversary of the inauguration of President Trump, the federal government experienced a partial three-day government shutdown. Most government agencies had been operating on a short-term continuing resolution at fiscal year 2017 funding levels, and the resolution expired at midnight on January 19. The real-world impact of the shutdown was minor, primarily because most of it occurred over a weekend.
There are many reasons why Congress could not come to an agreement on the fiscal year 2018 budget, and why they couldn’t even pass another short-term continuing resolution. The main controversy reported in the media centered around the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act and the “Dreamers,” but more was at play in this complex debate. Republican and Democrats still remain far apart on spending levels for defense and non-defense discretionary spending (which includes funding for the National Science Foundation). Also tied into the debate is the issue of stabilizing health insurance markets, funding for the border wall, and the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Even within the parties there are differences of opinion on spending levels and policy issues. Many Democrats are reluctant to tie the DACA issue into the budget negotiations, or trade funding for a border wall with citizenship pathways for dreamers. Also, as we get closer to Election Day, many Republicans are leery of a deal that increases domestic discretionary spending over existing levels.
The next deadline is midnight on February 8. While the president has offered to work on a DACA deal that includes border wall spending and other immigration reforms, Congress remains far from agreement on the issues that will need to be resolved to prevent another shutdown. Be prepared for the next shutdown to last longer than three days!
The Census and the Citizenship Question
The Trump administration, through the Department of Justice, has requested that the upcoming decennial census include a “citizenship” question that asks respondents to identify whether or not they are U.S. citizens. There have been similar efforts in Congress to require a citizenship question on the census. For example, in the 114th Congress (2015-2016), Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced the Census Accuracy Act of 2016, which would have added questions about citizenship and immigration status to the decennial Census, but make response to them voluntary. During debate on fiscal year 2018 appropriations, Representative Clay Higgins, R-Louisiana, also proposed an amendment to require mandatory questions on the 2020 Census. Former Senator David Vitter, R-Louisiana, used to regularly propose legislation and amendments to require the decennial Census to include questions about immigration status.
Organizations like the Census Project have argued that asking questions about citizenship and immigration could — by deterring many immigrants (legal or illegal) from responding — hurt the response rate (and thus, accuracy) of the 2020 Census and this America’s ability to know our true population numbers. Adding additional questions to the 2020 Census also would disrupt preparations at a pivotal point in the decennial cycle, with the “dress rehearsal” about to start.
Politically, a citizenship question could result in an underreporting of population in urban areas, where most immigrants reside. This could have significant implications for the 2022 redistricting process, where maps for congressional districts are drawn to ensure equal populations in each district (see below the Washington Post article “Potential citizenship question…”).
State of the “Science” Union
There was little mention of science policy in the president’s State of the Union speech, but later that week, on February 1, the National Science Board released and presented to Congress its annual “Science and Engineering Indicators” report. This eye-opening report reinforces the importance of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce to our economy and global competitiveness, and also provides data on the extent to which the United States is falling behind China and other global competitors.
According to the report, “between 2000 and 2014, the number of Americans with a four-year degree in science and engineering (S&E) grew by 53 percent; in China, this number was 360 percent.” While the U.S. remains the leader in global expenditures on research and development, China has been increasing its expenditures at a more rapid rate and is second only to the U.S.
At a February 1 Congressional briefing on the report, National Science Board Chair Maria Zuber stated that “since 2000, China’s spending on R&D has grown by an average of 18 percent annually, while the U.S. rate grew by only 4 percent.” U.S. efforts to keep pace are hindered by budget stalemates and a lack of a long-term investment strategy on R&D, higher education and the expansion of a STEM workforce.
In the News…
“Furor greets request to add citizenship question to 2020 U.S. census” | Science magazine, January 2
“Oddball scientists, the rise of Chinese research, and other highlights from NSF’s new tome of essential science statistics” | Science magazine, January 19
“Potential citizenship question in 2020 Census could shift power to rural America” | Washington Post, January 24
“How the Alt-Right Uses Social Science to Make Racism Respectable” | Khalil Gibran Muhammed, The Nation, January 15
“Falling Short on Science” | Maria Zuber, The New York Times, January 26
Upcoming Hearings and Briefings
COSSA Social Science Policy Conference and Advocacy Day | April 30-May 1, Washington, D.C.
“Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Improving College Affordability” | February 6, 10 a.m., Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (430 Dirksen Office Building)
Late Night Quotable
Yesterday, a glitch kept sending iPhones the same CNN news alert repeatedly. But if I wanted to be annoyed by the same CNN news alert over and over, I’d just watch CNN for five minutes.
Jimmy Fallon, January 31
Police in Philadelphia have announced they will not grease light poles ahead of the Super Bowl because the grease did not deter people from climbing poles following the NFC championship game. In fact, all it did was made them impossible to arrest.
Seth Meyers, January 31
North Korea has announced that it will send a group of citizens called the “cheering squad” to next month’s Winter Olympics. And many of them are expected to actually compete in a new event called the “400 Meter Defection.”
Conan O’Brien, January 18