President Barack Obama talks with Ana Nieto (R) of Presidio, Texas, team leader of Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) along with teammates Janet Nieto (3nd R) and and Gwynelle Condino (2nd R) while touring student science fair projects on February 7, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama hosted the second White House Science Fair celebrating the student winners of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. (File/UPI/Molly Riley/Pool) | License Photo
A bipartisan House proposal to create the position of National Science Laureate was expected to pass easily, until Republicans pulled their support and blocked the bill.
Unlike the National Poet Laureate, who receives a $35,000 yearly stipend to travel the country promoting reading, poetry and literature, the National Science Laureate would be an unpaid, largely ceremonial position, to be held by up to three of America's top scientists.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-CA, introduced the bill along with Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, who chairs the House science committee, and a House Democratic aide said “we had expected it to pass easily. It’s no secret that Ms. Lofgren and chairman Smith don’t see eye-to-eye on many things. But they agree on the value of creating this honorary position.”
But last week, Larry Hart, a representative of the American Conservative Union, sent a letter to House Republicans claiming the laureate would be appointed by President Obama, and "will share his view that science should serve political ends, on such issues as climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases.”
Republicans promptly pulled the proposal from the floor schedule. If the proposal is reintroduced, at best in a few months, it will face strong opposition from groups lobbying against climate change action.
Climate skeptic Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute says that even GOP amendments wouldn't change his organization’s position.
“There’s no way to make it work,” Ebell said. “It would still give scientists an opportunity to pontificate, and we’re opposed to it.”
Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, who co-sponsored the bill, described the position as "a national role model who can encourage students to learn more about the sciences. By elevating great American scientific communicators, we can empower students -- especially girls and minorities -- to get excited about science."
"This is not a presidential appointment, and there would be no taxpayer money involved," said an aide for Randy Hultgren, an Illinois Republican who co-sponsored the bill. "This bill is simply a chance to show our children that discovery science is important and that science can be an exciting and rewarding career.”