Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, July 20, 2007

House approves OA mandate for NIH, but Bush may veto

Late yesterday the House of Representatives approved the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill creating an OA mandate at the NIH. 

The Associated Press gives both the good news and the bad.  The good:

The House on Thursday passed a spending bill that covers the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and related agencies, for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

The bad:

The legislation faces a veto from President Bush, who complains that Democratic add-ons have made it too expensive.


  • More on the good news.  This is important.  The full House has approved an OA mandate for the NIH —we’ve cleared one of the largest hurdles.  Now we only need approval by the Senate and President. 
  • More on the bad news.  Bush’s threatened veto (1) is serious and (2) has nothing to do with the OA provision in this large and complicated appropriations bill.  Last year the House also approved language creating an OA mandate for the NIH, but it died without a vote as a side-effect of the Democratic take-over in Congress.  (The lame-duck Republicans dawdled and then decided to leave appropriations to the Dems; when the Dems took over in January, the country was already three months into an unfunded fiscal year, action was urgent, and the Dems improvised a solution that disregarded nearly all of the carefully crafted appropriations bills.)  This year the language might be collateral damage in another political battle.  Here’s some perspective from Brendan Murray and Brian Faler at

    Bush, who only vetoed one piece of legislation passed by the Republican Congress in his first six years in office, is now threatening to reject almost every spending bill sent to him by the Democratic-controlled Congress unless lawmakers abandon plans to spend $23 billion more than he requested.

    While the amount involved is less than 1 percent of the $2.9 trillion federal budget, the political stakes are greater. A little more than 16 months before the 2008 elections, Democrats and Republicans alike figure a fight may be in their interests.

    “It's a very big fight over a fairly small sum of money,” says Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonpartisan group that advocates a balanced budget. “It has a lot of political significance in terms of the signals being sent.”

    Bush and the Republicans, stung by criticism that they presided over a surge in government spending, are looking to rehabilitate themselves among core supporters by holding the line on the budget. Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to show they can deliver on promises to shore up education, health care and a host of other initiatives.

Update.  For more perspective on the prospect of a Bush veto, see this story in today’s National Journal.  Both parties seem to relish the prospect of a battle:

The [Labor-HHS appropriations] bill passed on a 276-140 margin, not enough to demonstrate the two-thirds of those present and voting to override the veto Bush has threatened….

That is the largest difference between Bush and the Democrats among the 12 spending bills…

The Labor-HHS bill has traditionally enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the House, with its funding for biomedical research, low-income heating and cooling subsidies, education for disabled children and community service block grants providing basic services for the poor and elderly appealing to Republicans and Democrats….

But this year's atmosphere is different, and with GOP leaders seeking to draw sharp distinctions between their party and the Democrats on fiscal matters, they were able to largely keep their troops in line.

Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, was confident that in the end, Republicans could sustain a veto, noting a number of absences on his side on Thursday's vote. "We have other members who while they may have voted 'yes' here, will vote to sustain a veto. I'm not worried about it," he [said].

Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., had a different take. "It was a damn good vote," he said. "With all of the Sturm und Drang, they couldn't find anything in the bill that they wanted to change [in the GOP motion to recommit]. I think that demonstrates that they think it's a pretty good doggone bill." …[Obey added:] "There is a reason why there were no votes expressed in opposition in committee: That's because this is the people's bill." …

The bill must go to conference with the Senate, which might not consider it on the floor until October, before being sent to Bush for his expected veto.

At that rate, it increases the likelihood that the Labor-HHS bill will run out of time to move on its own and simply be wrapped into a year-end omnibus package, some Democrats privately acknowledge.

Update. Charles Bailey has listed the names of all House members who voted against the bill.