Washington and Social Science: Basic Research and Opioid Epidemic

June 6, 2018

The House of Representatives cleared for the president’s signature the “Right to Try” Act and the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (banking reform). Both measures were signed into law. The House also approved the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, and several additional financial services measures. The Senate approved a joint resolution disapproving the FCC’s rule negating the previous administration’s net neutrality rule. The Senate also cleared the Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act and confirmed several nominations, including Gina Haspel to be the director of the CIA.

House Appropriations Committee Provides Increase for NSF in FY19

On May 17, the full House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the fiscal year 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Act. The bill includes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $8.2 billion – $408 million above the fiscal year 2018 enacted level. Research and related activities are funded at $6.7 billion, $317 million above the current level. The bill also provides $4.8 billion for the Bureau of the Census to ramp up for the 2020 Decennial Census. The committee also rejected an amendment that would have prohibited the inclusion of a citizenship question on the Decennial Census.

Social Science news bulletinIn keeping with standard practice over the years, the committee did not include specific line items for each individual research directorate at NSF, including the Directorate for the Social, Behavioral and Economic (SBE) Sciences. While the science community has supported this approach over the years, there are no guarantees included in the bill that any portion of the $317 million increase for research and related activities will go to the SBE directorate. For fiscal year 2019, the administration has proposed an 11.2 percent cut for the SBE directorate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark-up their version of the fiscal year 2019 CJS Appropriations Act the week of June 11.

Senate Votes to Overturn FCC Net Neutrality Rule…Will the House Follow Suit?

With the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) net neutrality rules set to take effect on June 11, the Senate on May 16 voted 52-47 to adopt a resolution to overturn the FCC’s action and essentially restore the Obama Administration’s net neutrality rules. The resolution was introduced under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives Congress 60 legislative days to reverse an agency’s regulation.  Under the CRA process, Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, filed a discharge petition that received the required 30 signatures needed to force a vote on the issue. All 49 Democrat and independent senators voted in favor, as well as Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Passage of this resolution in the House of Representatives is much less likely. In the House, under the CRA process, net neutrality supporters must collect signatures from a full majority of House members, which would require the support of at least 22 Republicans. Even Republicans sympathetic to net neutrality are unlikely to publicly oppose the president on this issue. However, there may be an attempt to forge a compromise bill before the end of the year, but the legislative clock is running short.

Regardless of the legislative outcome, net neutrality is likely to become an important political issue in the mid-term congressional elections this November.

Social Science and the Opioid Epidemic

One of the most important issues facing Congress this year is the opioid epidemic that has touched on the lives of so many Americans. On May 17, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved a package of 57 bills designed to address the opioid crisis, and the full House is expected to debate these bills later this month.

Research plays an important role in helping us understand this crisis and develop solutions. At its core, the opioid epidemic is a behavioral health issue, and social science can play a role in a multi-disciplinary approach that includes biomedical, psychological, and sociological sciences

Through the SBE directorate, the NSF has funded research on opioids, including a study by Dr. Michael Frank, professor of cognitive, linguistic & psychological sciences at Brown University, and Dr. Anne Collins, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University.  Their SBE-funded grant is exploring the role of the human dopamine system in opioid addiction. Using magnetic resonance imaging, Frank and Collins are mapping the connections between the brainstem areas where dopamine molecules are synthesized, and the brain areas that are important for movement, decision-making, and cognition in humans.

Dopamine is popularly known as “the brain’s pleasure chemical.” Frank and Collins are discovering that the human dopamine system does not just track pleasure, such as the experience of taking opioids, but also tracks unpleasant events. Their research will contribute to an improved understanding of the brain bases of decision-making, enabling insight into how altered brain function (such as that which occurs with aging, mental health disorders, and drug abuse) changes how people think and behave.

More info about the NSF grant can be found here:

 In the News…

“Social science research makes surprise appearance in rollout of Melania Trump’s children’s initiative” | Science (Jeff Mervis), May 10

“Sensible priorities for taxpayer-supported science” | Op-ed by House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Science Subcommittee on the Environment Chairman Andy Biggs, R-Arizona

“Facebook is giving scientists its data to fight misinformation” | Wired, May 29

“Trump’s election and political ads shortened 2016 Thanksgiving dinners, researchers say” | Washington Post, May 31

“Does separating families at the border discourage immigration? Here’s what the research says” |

Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post, May 31

“In Gerrymandered Districts, Constituents Likely To Lose Economic Security” | Hidden Brain blog at National Public Radio, May1

Upcoming Hearings and Briefings


Friday, June 15, Noon to 1 p.m.

2044 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515

Sponsored by the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the Research & Development Caucus

Please RSVP for the luncheon briefing by contacting Sarah Mandell at



July 17-18


Late Night Quotable

“American Airlines has announced that beginning this July, passengers will not be allowed to bring emotional support hedgehogs, goats, or spiders on flights. Or as Southwest calls them, ‘Group 2.’ ”

Seth Meyers, May 16

“A new report says that the U.S. military is running out of bombs. As of now, the Pentagon is down to 100 bunker busters and six copies of ‘The Emoji Movie.’ “

Conan O’Brien, May 24

“Scientists claim to have succeeded transplanting a memory from the brain of one sea snail and implanting it into another. Or, more likely, snails live pretty similar lives.”

Seth Meyers, May 17

“Saturday was Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. Millions of Americans woke up at 4 a.m., turned on the royal wedding and thought, ‘Wait, what am I doing with my life?’ ”

Jimmy Fallon, May 21

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Mark Vieth is a senior vice president of the Washington government relations firm CRD Associates. Since he joined CRD in 2002, he has specialized in bringing diverse associations, foundations, institutions of higher education and other stakeholders together to advocate for common objectives. Before that, Vieth was a staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years, including serving as chief of staff for then-Congressman Robert A. Borski of Pennsylvania.

View all posts by Mark Vieth

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