114th Congress Convenes in Washington

Thirteen new U.S. Senators and 58 House members were sworn in on Tuesday when the 114th U.S. Congress opened for business. Having gained the majority in the Senate and increased their numbers in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans now control both houses of Congress for the first time since 2006.

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) was re-elected to his third term as Speaker of the House, despite a last-minute challenge for the position. He was selected on the first ballot although 25 members from the Republican Party’s conservative wing voted against him.

The most significant changes on Capitol Hill are taking place in Senate leadership. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who took over the top Senate position from the Democrats, will enjoy a 54-46 voting margin. All committees are switching from Democratic to Republican Party chairs. New chairs of key committees affecting NABR members are:

Agriculture -- Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) takes over this committee, which has jurisdiction over the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). He previously chaired the House Agriculture committee for 20 years.

Appropriations -- The gavel of the powerful panel responsible for drafting approximately one-third of the federal budget returns to Mississippi's Senator Thad Cochran, who was just re-elected to a seventh term.

Budget – In a surprise move, Wyoming's Mike Enzi became chairman of the Senate Budget Committee after Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama stepped aside. Sessions had been the top Republican on the committee the last four years.

Environment & Public Works -- Oklahoma's Senator James Inhofe replaces Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who previously chaired this committee with responsibility for bills affecting federal product safety and testing requirements. Sen. Inhofe, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was a champion of the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). As NABR members will also recall, the committee now chaired by Inhofe is the same committee in which a hearing on legislation to prohibit the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research (the Great Ape Protection Act) was previously held.

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions – Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee takes the reins here. The former education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, governor and president of the University of Tennessee, has said modernizing the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration is a necessity.

The full listing of committee assignments for Republican Senators is available here. The Democratic member list for Senate committees is posted here.

Please continue checking your email and www.NABR.org for legislative updates.

“CRomnibus” Measure Provides FY 2015 Funding for Research

On Saturday, December 13, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill, and last night the President signed it into law, ending any threat of a federal government shutdown. Federal spending authority was due to expire at midnight tonight. The “CRomnibus” -- a Continuing Resolution and omnibus appropriations combination measure -- continues funding for federal programs through September 30, 2015, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security. Funds for that department were extended only through February, when a showdown over immigration reform is expected. Although other matters of substance were affected, as reported by Science here and here, details of particular interest to NABR members follow:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s largest research funder, received a total of $30 billion, $150 million above the fiscal year 2014 level. Biomedical research advocates note that the small increase won’t allow agency spending to keep pace with inflation. The $150 million increase, a mere 0.5% boost over the $29.9 billion it received last year, still leaves NIH below its budget level in 2012 before sequestration took a 5% bite. “We appreciate any increase, but it’s not getting the job done. We’re going backwards,” says Jennifer Zeitzer, deputy director of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s (FASEB) Office of Public Affairs.

The bill singles out a few areas for larger increases. The National Institute on Aging gets a $28.6 million increase, or a 2.4% raise to $1.2 billion. “[A] significant portion” of the new money should go to Alzheimer’s disease depending on the quality of grant proposals, says a report accompanying the bill. Some institutes also received a boost as part of a $25 million increase for the Obama Administration’s BRAIN Initiative, which receives a total of $65 million.

Efforts to combat the Ebola virus got about $5.2 billion in emergency spending (which is not counted as part of the regular budget), some $800 million less than the White House had requested. Included is $25 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some of which may be used to expedite testing and approval of human drugs and vaccines.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) fared slightly better than NIH, receiving a 2.4% increase, to $7.344 billion. That amount is $89 million above the president’s request, although it falls short of the $222 million boost that the House of Representatives had approved in May.

Surgeon General Nominee Confirmed by U.S. Senate

Today, Dr. Vivek Murthy was confirmed by the United States Senate to become the nation’s Surgeon General, replacing Vice Admiral Regina Benjamin who resigned from the position in July of 2013.  He will now become the head of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (PHSCC) and become the nation’s top doctor and leading voice on issues of public health.

Dr. Murthy was nominated by President Barack Obama in November of 2013 for the post but his confirmation was delayed due to resistance from conservative lawmakers over past comments he made citing gun violence as a threat to public health.

Dr. Murthy was confirmed by a 51-43 vote.

Retiring Member of Congress Named AAAS CEO

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist, educator, and 8-term Democratic member of Congress, has been named the new CEO of AAAS. He will succeed Alan Leshner, a neuroscientist who is stepping down this winter after leading AAAS since 2001. The American Association for the Advancement of Science publishes Science, ScienceInsider and other journals.

Holt, 66, has represented a New Jersey district since 1999, but in February 2014 announced he would not seek another term. Although not known for sponsoring legislation, Holt has earned kudos from both Republican and Democrat colleagues for being an effective, behind-the-scenes advocate for additional funding for research and science education. He was part of an unofficial, bipartisan “physics caucus” in Congress that, at its peak, totaled three members who held physics PhDs. More details are provided in this ScienceInsider report.

NABR’s 2014 Midterm Election Round-Up

The seemingly endless campaign ads on television, the mountains of campaign materials in the mail, the countless sound bites, the frenzy of social media posts are finally over, for now at least. American voters went to the polls yesterday and made their voices heard.

Thankfully, there was a quick answer to one of the biggest questions looming over this year’s midterm elections: Which party will control the United States Senate? Pundits across the airwaves hinted that Republicans might have a slight advantage over Democrats, but that the decision over control could stretch into January of 2015 because of potential run-off elections in both Louisiana and Georgia. However in the Georgia Senate race, Republican David Perdue beat Democrat Michelle Nunn handily with 52.97% of the vote, thus avoiding a run-off in that state. In Louisiana however, there will be a run-off scheduled for December 6 between incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy. The Louisiana run-off does not impact the control of the Senate, as Republicans won control of eight Democratic-held seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia giving them a total of 52 seats thus far. Results are currently pending in Virginia where Republican challenger Ed Gillespie performed better than many expected against incumbent Senator Mark Warner. In the House, Republicans will have increased their margin by an additional 14-18 seats over their current 34 seat advantage once the post-election dust settles. This will be the largest Republican majority in the House of Representatives since World War II.

2014 was not a good midterm election for animal rights proponents. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who is currently the chair of two committees with jurisdiction over the NIH, will be retiring and his Senatorial seat will now be filled by Republican newcomer Joni Ernst. Harkin, a long-time supporter of the NIH and science, was also a sympathetic voice for opponents of the availability of chimpanzees in biomedical research. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), a cosponsor of the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act in the 112th Congress, lost his election to Republican candidate Dan Sullivan. Senator Landrieu, a steadfast supporter of the Humane Society of the United States, still could lose her run-off election next month. To view projected Senate Committee chairmanships presented by Science Insider, please click here. We will keep you updated on those committee assignments as they become available.. Several ardent animal rights supporters will not be returning to Congress: Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL), Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA), Rep. Alyson Schwartz (D-PA), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Rep. George Miller (D-CA), and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). The most notable of these departures would be the retirement of Rep. Moran who, for many years, has been a leader on Capitol Hill for HSUS and other animal rights organizations. Rep. Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) race is currently too close to call. If she were to lose, the animal rights community would lose another top voice in Congress. With Republicans expanding their control in the House and the loss of the above representatives, the new Congress is likely to be even more supportive of humane and responsible animal research.

Over the next few months, NABR will be busy educating freshman policymakers to ensure that sound, science-based policy is given full consideration in Congress. Please continue to visit the News You Can Use section on our homepage at www.NABR.org for updates of interest to the biomedical research community.

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