Congress Kicks Off the 117th Session

January 8, 2021

The U.S. Congress began its 117th session on January 3, 2021, after swearing in new and returning Senators and Representatives. The new Congress faces demands for trillions of dollars in new spending in efforts to address needs of a worsening pandemic and long-term consequences. The outcome of the January 5 election for the two U.S. Senators from Georgia resulted in a chamber split evenly between Republicans and Democrats with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris providing the deciding vote.

The House re-elected Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Speaker of the House on a party-line vote of 216-209. While many Committee assignments remain to be made, some are known. Due to retirements and election outcomes, the House will see some changes in leadership of the Appropriations Committee and of subcommittees with jurisdiction over federal agencies of import to FABBS members. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will serve as Chair of the House Appropriations Committee replacing longtime Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) who has chosen to retire after serving 16 terms in the House. The House Appropriations Committee will have five new Democratic members next year to help the incoming Biden administration fund its legislative priorities. Reps. Adriano Espaillat, (NY), Josh Harder (CA), Susie Lee (NV), David Trone (MD), Lauren Underwood (IL), and Jennifer Wexton (VA). Rep. Katherine Clarke (D-MA), who met with a delegation of FABBS members in August 2019 and is a strong supporter of FABBS’ sciences, will serve as Assistant Speaker.

On the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee, with jurisdiction over the National Science Foundation (NSF) Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) will take the helm, following the retirement of Chair Jose Serrano (D-NY). Based on past Congresses, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is expected to continue as the chair of the Labor Health and Human Services (LHHS) Subcommittee, in addition to the full committee. Rep. David Obey (D-WI) held both of these chairmanships. The LHHS subcommittee determines the budget of both the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Few Committee assignments have been made in the Senate. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has retired, previously chairing the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee with jurisdiction over both NIH and IES. He also served on appropriations subcommittees with jurisdiction over these two agencies as well as the NSF. Two strong advocates for science on committees important to FABBS lost their seats — Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

FABBS will be engaged in the development of and discussions around and reauthorization legislation expected this year:

  • Reauthorization of the National Science Foundation
  • Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA)
  • Reauthorization of the Institute of Education Sciences – Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA)

FABBS will also be monitoring the reintroduction of legislation that was not passed during last session

  • Combatting Sexual Harassment in Science Act 2019 – HR 36
  • Research Investment to Secure the Economy (RISE) Act – HR 7308/ S 4286
  • Science Integrity Act – HR1709
  • Endless Frontiers Act – S 3832
  • Supporting Early Career Researchers Act – HR 8044

Both the House and the Senate have released legislative calendars for their respective chambers for 2021. The two calendars are combined into a pdf published by CQ Roll Call.