Friday, June 20, 1997
1. FY 98 BUDGET: MONEY CRUNCH REPLACED BY TIME CRUNCH.
Subcommittees are scurrying to mark up their spending bills this week. They won't make it. The schedule
was set back by the squabble over the budget agreement, followed by the squabble over the budget resolution,
followed by the flood relief squabble. The good news is that discretionary spending will increase $11B to a
total of $517B. The only subcommittee facing a cut is Energy and Water. The VA,HUD,IA (which includes
both NASA and NSF) will be up about $3.1B; Jerry Lewis (R-CA), the subcommittee chair, has said NSF is
his highest priority for an increase. NASA's Origins Program, on the other hand, is thought to be in trouble.
Things are a bit fuzzier in the Senate, where the VA, HUD, IA subcommittee has several new members
whose sympathies are not yet clear.
2. ARCHER TAX BILL: NOTHING IS CERTAIN BUT DEATH AND TEXAS.
Last week, WN
reported that the tax proposal offered by Houston sharp shooter Bill Archer (R-TX), chair of the House Ways
and Means Committee, takes aim at the tuition waver (WN 13 Jun 97). The
bill would also gun down the tax exemption of TIAA, shooting holes in the retirement accounts of thousands
of faculty. Archer says the measure will level the playing field. The only major competitor to TIAA is said to
be a company called Valik -- in Houston. The Senate version does not remove the exemption, so it may come
down to conference.
3. NUCLEAR WEAPONS: ACADEMY PANEL SAYS THE COLD WAR IS OVER.
But the risks
posed by thousands of nukes remain unacceptably high. The panel, which includes two former APS
presidents, Wolfgang Panofsky and Kumar Patel, and APS Fellow Richard Garwin, calls for immediate steps
to: further reduce the number of weapons on both sides, end policies based on instant massive retaliation, and
continue restrictions on missile defense systems. For the long-term, the panel notes that a complete ban will
require unprecedented international cooperation and openness to provide safeguards against the risks of
cheating or the rapid rebuilding of nuclear arsenals. The report brought massive retaliation from National
Missile Defense proponents. Former SDI chief Henry Cooper attacked the "misguided fascination with the
4. TRITIUM EXPOSURE: DON'T TOUCH THAT FLUSH HANDLE!
Since the World Trade Center
bombing, countless electric exit signs in public buildings have been replaced with self-illuminating signs that
contain up to 30 curies of tritium -- 3 times the total tritium content of the Brookhaven leak (WN 14 Mar 97). A New Jersey teenager broke a sign he took from a
demolition site. His urine initially measured about 30 million picocuries per liter. Not a dangerous exposure,
but it was a disposal problem. Flushing the toilet would violate EPA standards.