Friday, 12 July 96 Washington, DC
1. HELIUM: PRIVATIZATION BILL CAN'T MAKE IT OVER YUCCA MOUNTAIN.
When the House passed H.R. 3008, the Helium Privatization Act of 1996, by an embarrassing 411-10, it seemed that the only thing that could save the nation's helium reserve would be gridlock in the Senate (WN 3 May 96). Well, there was one other way: fix the bill. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee amended H.R. 3008 to require that, before any sale, a study be carried out by the National Academy to examine the impact on American science and technology (WN 21 Jun 96). House sponsors of the bill are prepared to accept the change. But first it has to be voted on by the full Senate, and it can't get to the floor. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is blocking everything to keep S. 1271, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1996, from coming up for a vote. S. 1271 would force Nevada to accept an interim storage facility. So in the end, it may be gridlock that saves the reserve after all.
2. TRAIN WRECK '97? IT LOOKS MORE LIKE A BREAKDOWN THAN A CRASH.
You read it here first (WN 14 Jun 96): Republican Congressional leaders now openly advocate passage of a continuing resolution to keep the government operating at current levels through 31 March. It would apply to all departments and agencies not covered by annual appropriations by 1 October. The object is to avoid an embarrassing shutdown in an election year, but if such a CR were to pass, pressure to complete appropriations would vanish. Seven of the 13 spending bills have passed the House and two more could reach the floor this week, but the Senate is much further behind. And every day of gridlock makes passage of a CR more likely.
3. FY 97 BUDGET: SENATE COMMITTEE RESTORES $9M NSF SALARY MONEY.
The Appropriations Committee finished work on the VA/HUD/IA bill yesterday. The Senate bill softens some of the sharp edges in the version passed by the House (WN 28 Jun 95). In particular, the Senate version restores the $9M cut in NSF salaries dictated by the Walker amendment. In addition, a $100M cut, specified for the Earth Observing System by the House, becomes a general NASA reduction. Nor does the Senate deny funds for simian astronauts. As in the House, these provisions could still be inserted by amendments from the floor. But if the Senate remains in gridlock or a CR is passed, the bill may never reach the floor.
4. DEFENSE: GAO REPORT SAYS IT MAY BE SMART TO USE DUMB WEAPONS.
In 1992, MIT physicist Ted Postol reported that the success rate of Patriot missiles against primitive scud missiles was next to zero. The Pentagon charged him with revealing secret information (WN 20 Mar 92). A new GAO report says it's not clear that any of the "smart" weapons used in Desert Storm were more effective than their dumb counterparts, despite a huge disparity in cost. The Pentagon blames many Desert Storm failures on weather, which won't affect new precision weapons that use global positioning.