Struggling to ‘compete’

STRUGGLING TO ‘COMPETE’…. I’ve come to think of the America COMPETES Act as a terrific example of how Congress tries to function in 2010, but comes up short in the face of ridiculous and reflexive Republican opposition.

The legislation seems like the kind of measure that could be approved without a lot of partisan sniping. The America COMPETES Act is a jobs bill with a specific focus on boosting investing in science, research, and training programs. It’s even garnered Republican co-sponsors.

Last week, however, House approval was scuttled by a farcical Republican motion related to pornography, which made GOP leaders look like spoiled children.

But House Democrats genuinely believe the effort is worthwhile, so it made a good-faith effort to made the bill palatable to a broad majority. They scaled down the price tag from $85 billion to about $47 billion over three years, and even endorsed the Republicans’ anti-porn amendment.

But Republicans killed it again anyway.

It was strike two for a major science funding bill yesterday as House Republicans again united to derail legislation they said was too expensive.

Going down to defeat was legislation that would have committed more than $40 billion over three years to boost funding for the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies involved in basic and applied science, provided loan guarantees to small businesses developing new technologies, and promoted science and math education.

Congress enacted a first version of the legislation in 2007 with a large majority in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate. But in this election year, with Republicans out to show their antispending credentials, things are different.

“Different,” in the sense that congressional Republicans now reject jobs bills they used to support.

Rep. Bart Gordon (D), a Blue Dog from Tennessee, explained that he had made a “sincere attempt to compromise” with Republicans on the legislation, which he believes is vital to the U.S. maintaining a technological edge over foreign competitors. I don’t doubt that he did.

But by all appearances, Gordon was wasting his time trying to reach out to the GOP, which is about as interested in compromise as it is in scientific advances and America’s competitive edge.

The final vote was 261 in favor to 148 against. Ordinarily, that’d be enough, but House leaders needed a two-thirds majority for approval, using a procedure that prevented Republicans from playing stupid procedural games.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) vowed to give this another try fairly soon.