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Anti-Porn Measure Stalls House Vote on STEM Bill

Earlier this afternoon, I was working feverishly to get a story ready for EdWeek about the U.S. House passing the America COMPETES Act, bipartisan legislation that aims in part to improve education in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. I had left a few holes to fill, such as the actual vote count. But then Congress threw a curve ball.

As I was in the midst of typing an especially eloquent passage (OK, maybe not so eloquent), I got an e-mail explaining that a Republican "motion to recommit" the bill had just been approved. In response, the majority Democrats opted to abruptly pull the legislation from the House floor without a final vote.

The Hill newspaper, which covers Capitol Hill, helpfully explained what was really going on in a story headlined: "Anti-Porn Provision Sinks Dem Jobs Bill."

"[T]he 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,' " the story explains. The provision apparently "scared dozens of Democrats" into voting with their Republican colleagues to pass the motion, the story says.

Democrats ultimately decided to pull the bill from the House floor because the Republican move also made a host of other changes directly relevant to the COMPETES Act, such as eliminating any authorization for programs beyond 2013, striking proposed new programs from the bill, and freezing funding in existing ones at current levels.

Rep. Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat who is the chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee, sharply criticized the Republican maneuver.

"I'm disappointed that politics trumped good policy," he said in a press release. "The minority was willing to trade American jobs and out nation's economic competitiveness for the chance to run a good political ad."

He added: "We're all opposed to federal employees watching pornography. That is not a question; but that's not what this was about. The motion to recommit was about gutting funding for our science agencies."

A press release from Republicans on the House science committee explained that GOP lawmakers support many of the programs in the legislation but are concerned about "increased costs, a shift in priorities, and the inappropriate use of federal funding represented in some of the programs."

"I remain committed to the underlying goals of the America COMPETES Act," said Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas, the panel's top Republican. "However, this bill spends too much money and goes far beyond the original intent and scope of the COMPETES legislation."

I should note that not all House Republicans appear to agree with Rep. Hall. Some were expected to support the House bill.

For more background about the bill, see this recent blog item and check out this story.

Word has it that Democrats will try again to pass the legislation next week.

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