The Duck Quacks, New House and Senate Chairs Are Named

Congress’ very short lame-duck session came to an end early Saturday morning wrapping up a largely unproductive 109th Congress in the technology policy space. In the waning hours, Congress did pass a few tech-related measures, but left almost all of the funding and competitiveness bills on the table — including funding for the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI).

Also, as the 109th Congress concluded, the Democrats were laying plans for the 110th Congress by naming their committee chairs. The Republicans also named their ranking members.

Lame Duck Actions (or Inaction)

In a flurry of last-minute dealmaking Congress was able to pass legislation outlawing the practice of “pretexting”. Congress had been looking into the practice for several months, but the Hewlett-Packard scandal energized legislation to criminalize this practice. The final agreement makes it a federal crime to attempt to obtain confidential phone records, or to sell or purchase confidential records without the consumer’s consent.

Congress also extended and made retroactive the Research and Development Tax Credit. Tech leaders had expressed frustration with Congress’ inaction on the issue, and fought to make it retroactive (it expired in 2005) and permanent. They won half the battle as the final agreement makes the credit retroactive to 2005, but only extends it to the end of 2007.

One of the biggest issues that the 109th Congress left on the table was funding for most of the federal government. Congress could only agree on 2 of 13 appropriation bills (the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security bills) for Fiscal Year 2007. To keep the government’s doors open, Congress passed a “continuing resolution” extending ’06 funding through February. This left the Democrats facing finishing the ’07 appropriations, while organizing and starting work on the ’08 budget — all in the first few weeks of the new Congress. Yesterday the Democrats announced that they will forgo finishing the ’07 bills and extend the continuing resolution for the entire year. This means that most of the agencies funded by the 11 remaining bills will be funded at the same level as ’06.

This is a setback for many of the scientific groups that had been working on trying to get Congress to fund the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. (This proposal boosted funding for the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology.) Both the House and the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, had embraced the initiative and bumped up funding for the agencies, but these increases die now that the bills have failed. Look for the tech community to push Congress to adjust the year-long continuing resolution by including increases reflecting the ACI.

New Committee Leadership

In November, I posted some thoughts about what the Democrats’ technology policy agenda might be. Much of agenda will be set by the incoming committee chairs. The table below reflects the new chairs and ranking members announced last week on key technology policy committees. (Note, the Senate Republicans have not yet announced their ranking members on each committee.) One of the interesting appointments was Senator Diane Feinstein as Chair of Senate Rules. This committee has jurisdiction over voting issues, and Senator Feinstein has been a leader in the Senate for e-voting reform.

House Committee Chairman Ranking Member
Appropriations Rep. David Obey (D-WI) Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)
Armed Services Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
Education and Workforce Rep. George Miller (D-CA) Rep. Howard “Buck” Mckeon (R-CA)
Energy and Commerce Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX)
Government Reform Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA)
Homeland Security Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Rep. Peter King (R-NY)
House Administration Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
Judiciary Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)
Science Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TX) Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX)
Senate Committee Chair
Appropriations Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV)
Armed Services Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI)
Commerce Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Government Affairs and Homeland Security Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT)
Judiciary Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Rules Sen. Diane Feinstein
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