Republicans Kill Science with Porn

weird-scienceDespite a 39-seat margin and rules that ordinarily allow the majority party to pass bills with impunity, the Democrats are finding themselves hamstrung with brazen parliamentary maneuvers:

House Democrats had to scrap their only substantive bill of the week Thursday after Republicans won a procedural vote that substantively altered the legislation with an anti-porn clause.

Democrats had labeled their COMPETES Act — a bill to increase investments in science, research and training programs — as their latest jobs bill. It was the only non-suspension bill Democrats brought up all week.

But the Republican motion to recommit the bill — a parliamentary tactic that gives the minority one final chance to amend legislation — contained language prohibiting federal funds from going “to salaries to those officially disciplined for violations regarding the viewing, downloading, or exchanging of pornography, including child pornography, on a federal computer or while performing official government duties.”

That provision scared dozens of Democrats into voting with Republicans to approve the motion to recommit. After it became clear the GOP motion was going to pass, dozens of additional Democrats changed their votes from “no” to “yes.” In the end, 121 Democrats voted with Republicans — only four fewer than the number of Democrats who voted with their party.

I haven’t put any energy into studying the COMPETE Act and the Republicans have herewith saved me the trouble.   So, I don’t know whether to thank them for saving us from another giant giveaway or to be upset that they’re setting back our national R&D efforts.   But I have to hand it to them for coming up with such a bizarre and clever way of killing the bill.

That said, one would think, in the House at least, it would be easy enough to get something through the Rules Committee to block such obviously non-germane amendments.  What the hell does whether some employee somewhere looked a porn — which, unlike “obscenity” is protected under the 1st Amendment — have to do with the merits of the bill?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jay Tea says:

    James, it’s not looking at porn that is invoked here; it’s doing it on the government’s dime. It covers looking at porn while on the clock, or on a government-owned computer.

    What they do on their time is their business. What they do on our time is our business. And if that includes looking at porn — like those sleazeballs at the SEC — then they oughta be fired.

    I know I could be fired for doing that while I’m on the clock. The same should hold true for them.

    J.

  2. James Joyner says:

    But there’s standard contract language that precludes conversion of federal property for personal use and most, if not all, workplaces have policies against looking at porn at work. But this essentially requires constant federal audits for compliance. It’s ridiculous.

  3. RadioFreePeru says:

    “…Upset that they’re setting back our national R&D efforts”
    How could anyone seriously think that giving more money to government would do anything in favor of R&D? Most likely the money will come from taxing the folks who do real R&D (not counting silly “feel good” studies).

  4. James Joyner says:

    How could anyone seriously think that giving more money to government would do anything in favor of R&D? Most likely the money will come from taxing the folks who do real R&D (not counting silly “feel good” studies).

    So, the space program, the Internet, global positioning system, and all the rest don’t count?

  5. george says:

    Well, things like the discovery of DNA and quantum mechanics were paid for by (various) gov’t funding, so its pretty obvious that having a gov’t pay for research is a complete waste of money. Nothing practical in any of that.

  6. john personna says:

    From the guy whose sidebar sometimes qualifies 😉

  7. yetanotherjohn says:

    It is pretty hard to argue with the idea that the government should not be paying for people to look at porn. I suppose there could be a research intohuman sexuality that this could be an issue, but the vast majority this should be a no brainer. How the “standard” contract rules and this amendment would differ, I don’t know.
    Probably not much. There was probably some “standard” language in SEC situation, but obviously that wasn’t enough.

    NASA, DARPA, NOAA, etc. have all funded some great science. I wouldn’t consider any of those “job” creators, though certainly there are jobs there. You can even make a case for research leading to substantial new job creation (e.g. siicon transistors). If this was truly a long term thinking bill meant to establish something like nanoengineering industry that could provide jobs for years, I would be impressed (still dubious vs the private sector doing it, but imppressed with the foresight).

    But put all of that aside. What amazes me is how this is presented.

    1) The democrats presented on substantial bill during the week. No indoiation that the GOP in anyway kept them from presenting as many substantial bills as they wanted.

    2) The democrats have a large majority in the house. They have demonstrated that they have no problem acting unilaterally and even against the preference of a plurality of the voters (e.g. health care). All the GOP can do is present an amendment. The democrats can steam roller the amendments (as they did in the health care debate).

    Yet despite both of these things, it is presented as the GOP preventing the dems from doing something. Either the democrats screwed up because they forgot to include something obvious (“No watching porn on the taxpayers dime”) or the GOP offered a silly amendment that the dems should have steamrolled. The vote indicates that perhaps the amendment wasn’t so far a field that dems wanted to explain to taxpayers why their money should go to pay for people to watch porn.

    Finally, perhaps the clearest indication that there may be 100+ seats in play is the number of democrats who joined with the Gop (roughly half voting here).

  8. PD Shaw says:

    I think the House is barely in session right now; they are just putting out some small puff-piece legislation to give Democrats at risk some resume pieces for the Fall. I doubt the original bill was very serious and I doubt the Democrats would have let this happen if it had been.

  9. john personna says:

    So what was the Republican framework going to do?

    Would every research institution need to hire a porn monitor? Does that reduce spending and improve efficiency?

    If you don’t monitor, and you’ve got a really good project going on the common cold … only to discover that quiet guy in the corner has been looking a the nastyweb … do you shut down?

    This was a move that at one level was sensible (of course we we don’t want to pay porn-surfers (government stimulus?)), but on the other hand it is something that has no reasonable implementation or enforcement.

    One part-time worker with a prurient interest would with weakness ruin good research.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    According to Politico, it wasn’t just porn:

    Republicans used a procedural maneuver to force a vote on an amendment that was just as politically pleasing to them. The GOP proposal would ban salaries for workers who look at pornography on government computers, prohibit funding in the bill for colleges that ban military recruiters and slash overall spending authorization levels.

    The Do-Nothing (But Politics) House

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    So, the space program, the Internet, global positioning system, and all the rest don’t count?

    I think the federal government’s track record is better with mass engineering projects than it is with basic science.

    Perhaps the question we should be considering is whether on net federal support for basic research increases or decreases the amount of basic research going on. I don’t know the answer to that question and I don’t think it’s obvious.

  12. JKB says:

    Look what Google dragged in. Seems the bill was nothing more than an INCREASE in funding with the extension of the COMPETES Act passed in 2007. And the no-pay-for-porn provision is known to target a widespread problem at the NSF.

    Catching the Democratic leadership by surprise, members voted 292 to 126 to block passage of a 5-year authorization bill that would have provided healthy increases in the research and education budgets of the National Science Foundation and research programs at the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce. Instead, a bipartisan majority voted for a 3-year freeze on the budgets for those agencies; it also cut all funding for DOE’s new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The actual vote was to recommit the bill, HR 5116, for an unspecified amount of time.

    Call me crazy but perhaps freezing spending is a good thing when our budgets are out of control? Either we hit everybody’s favorite tax dollar money pit or we hit nobody’s.

  13. john personna says:

    I think the federal government’s track record is better with mass engineering projects than it is with basic science.

    I think the thing to remember is that there isn’t a generic “science” or “research” and you can’t go to the market to buy 5 pounds.

    Projects are all over the map in terms of costs and benefits. Benefits are all over the map in terms of short or long term impact.

    Speaking as someone who has only been on the fringes of science … I think you could kill a lot of “big science” (colliders, space journeys), fund a lot of “small science” (state college grants), and come out waaaay ahead (both in dollars and benefits).

    (I caught a recent headline that NASA’s budget had shifted too far toward operations and too far from research. I’m not surprised.)

  14. john personna says:

    (I caught a recent headline that NASA’s budget had shifted too far toward operations and too far from research. I’m not surprised.)

    dumb-ass mars mission

  15. george says:

    I think the federal government’s track record is better with mass engineering projects than it is with basic science.

    Perhaps the question we should be considering is whether on net federal support for basic research increases or decreases the amount of basic research going on. I don’t know the answer to that question and I don’t think it’s obvious.

    How much basic science research goes on outside the gov’t? Universities, the military, NASA are all part of gov’t, or get gov’t funding. As far as I know, not many private companies are interested in basic research, because it can decades for a practical application (see quantum mechanics and genetics) to develop from them. An example of this is that most Nobel Prize winners did their work at universities or gov’t funded laboratories; there have been a handful that did their research at private labs like Bell’s, but they’re by far the minority.

  16. JKB says:

    I quickly scanned the COMPETES Act (here’s a summary) which this bill reauthorized and never did find any actual research. Just a lot of reports and education outreach programs. I’m sure the actual research gets funded beneath all the BS language but I like this one:

    (

    Sec. 7021) Requires the NSF Director to carry out a pilot program to award one-year grants to individuals to assist them in improving research proposals that were previously submitted to NSF but not selected for funding. Requires that such grants be used to enable individuals to resubmit updated research proposals for review by NSF through NSF’s competitive merit review process.

    One of the most identifiable requirements of the act is to give grants to people so they can study how to improve their poor grant writing ability. Now if that isn’t government, what is?

  17. john personna says:

    I think george is right that there has been a general, historic split, with government funding basic research, and industry doing applied.

    Sometimes that breaks down, and IMO government gets sucked into too much applied research. Then government-funded entities apply for patents. Tragedy of the anti-commons. Madness.

    IMNSHO, government should do (small) basic science in the public domain, and let commercial companies race for practical applications and patents.

  18. john personna says:

    JKB, that is something that should be in a comic strip.

  19. PD Shaw says:

    Gazing at the Competes Act linked by JKB, amid all of the grant-making authority I found this interesting direction:

    (Sec. 8004) Expresses the sense of the Senate that federal funds should not be provided to any organization or entity that advocates against a U.S. tax policy that is internationally competitive.

  20. John425 says:

    Mr. Joyner believes the Republicans should play by the rules and use common sense but gives the Democrats a pass when they pass a bill that nobody has read or understands.

  21. sam says:

    Mr. Joyner believes the Republicans should play by the rules and use common sense but gives the Democrats a pass when they pass a bill that nobody has read or understands.

    You’re full of shit. Go the archives before your next driveby, doofus.

  22. steve says:

    “Perhaps the question we should be considering is whether on net federal support for basic research increases or decreases the amount of basic research going on. I don’t know the answer to that question and I don’t think it’s obvious.”

    What are the market incentives for basic research? Few that I can see. There is no guarantee of a payout, much of it cannot be copyrighted and the payoffs that do occur are often many years in the future.

    This site, IIRC, claims that about 20% of basic research is done by private companies.

    http://www.sciencecoalition.org/successstories/

    Steve

  23. Grewgills says:

    contained language prohibiting federal funds from going “to salaries to those officially disciplined for violations regarding the viewing, downloading, or exchanging of pornography, including child pornography, on a federal computer or while performing official government duties.”

    It seems to me that the bolded section is key to seeing what the unintended consequences of the amendment would be. If a supervisor knows that his budget will take a big hit if he “officially disciplines” an employee for viewing or downloading porn while on duty wouldn’t that supervisor be strongly incentivized not to “officially discipline” said employee?
    This amendment would have been terrible as law and it seems obvious that those who wrote knew that going in and intended it to do exactly what it did.

    As several above have already pointed out basic research is primarily carried out by government and government supported entities and private companies begin to take interest when applications become obvious.