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Senate punts Schumer science and tech bill to June

Fate of package remains in question as GOP opposition could grow

Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, left, and Mike Lee of Utah have concerns about the science research and development bill’s content and the manner in which the Senate had amended it.
Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, left, and Mike Lee of Utah have concerns about the science research and development bill’s content and the manner in which the Senate had amended it. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate leaders struck a deal Friday to punt consideration of the bipartisan science research and development package until after the upcoming recess in exchange for a vote related to the creation of a national commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The deal was announced by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer following a long night of objections by Republican senators to the size and scope of the research and development bill, which would authorize more than $100 billion for numerous agencies within the federal government to counter China’s quest to dominate technologies of the future.

On Friday morning, Schumer said he expected the bill to pass by the end of the day. But its prospects dimmed after GOP senators, including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, picked up where Ron Johnson of Wisconsin began late Thursday, with a litany of concerns about the bill’s content and the manner in which the Senate had amended it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned during the two weeks the bill has been on the floor that it could spell trouble if Schumer did not allow votes on a sufficient number of Republican amendments. Numerous votes were held, and several GOP measures were added to the bill. But the more the bill grew, the antsier some Republicans grew.

The last straw for Johnson was when Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the chair of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, asked unanimous consent to attach 36 amendments to the bill as the clock struck midnight on Thursday. Behind closed doors, reports said, the Wisconsin Republican was pushing a controversial amendment related to the border wall.

As the Republican speeches continued Friday morning — with Memorial Day weekend and a weeklong recess growing ever closer — Schumer spun the deal to punt the research and development package as a win for Democrats because a procedural vote on legislation to establish a Jan. 6 commission would take place during regular business hours.

“It assures it occurs in the light of day, not at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Schumer said. (Senate Republicans later blocked the Jan. 6 commission bill, which fell short of the 60 votes needed for passage.)

Still, the fate of the research and development package remains in question. Nearly 20 Republicans voted on Thursday in favor of a Schumer amendment that substantially expanded the bill. Continued bipartisan support could push it across the finish line when the Senate returns June 7, unless the GOP holdouts are able to persuade more of their colleagues to defect. 

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