Congressional gridlock halts Penn's legislative goals


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While gridlock in Washington continues to cripple countless legislative efforts from across the political spectrum, Penn’s legislative agenda has been left to suffer.

One recent Penn-sponsored bill halted by partisan bickering is the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2014, which would give Penn $5 million per year for the next four years.

The University quickly endorsed the bill after it was introduced by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Aug. 11. The bill would also allocate additional funding to manufacturing engineering programs at 25 research universities across the country.

Although the bill has bipartisan backing and the active support of major research universities, including Penn, the prospects of the bill passing Congress have grown increasingly bleak.

“It is possible that something could happen during the lame duck session, but I kind of doubt that,” said Associate Vice President of Penn’s Office of Federal Relations Bill Andresen, who is Penn’s chief lobbyist in Congress. “I think the odds of any significant legislation passing this year are pretty small.”

For Penn, this could be problematic for professors who want to develop their research into a marketable product.

“One of the things that this manufacturing initiative would do is ... provide funds to help translate the research going on in universities into commercial products,” Penn’s Director of Research Initiatives Marc Rigas said. Federal funding initiatives, like this bill, he explained, “help our faculty members identify companies or entrepreneurs to work with to help them take their research or to do more pilot testing to develop prototype devices.”

“Universities like Penn are the places that generate all of the really new knowledge and cutting edge technologies,” Rigas said. Federal funding “is huge for Penn,” he added.

Congressional inactivity has become the norm in recent years. The current Congress is passing laws at almost half the rate of the previous Congress, which ended up passing the least amount of laws since World War II. Penn has also actively lobbied for issues such as patent reform and immigration reform, which have both been halted by Congressional gridlock.

Penn isn’t alone in its frustration with Capitol Hill. According to a Gallup Poll taken in early August, a dismal 13 percent of Americans approve of Congress.

With the 2014-midterm elections approaching, voters have the ability to shake up the congressional landscape, evidenced by the real possibility that Republicans could gain control of the Senate. Regardless, Penn isn’t anticipating any surge in bipartisanship after November.

“My expectation is that the House stays Republican and the Senate can sort of go either way,” said Andresen, who remains pessimistic about Penn’s legislative agenda even after the election. “The reality is that however it turns out, the Senate will be more closely divided after the election then it is today, so we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out and how we best engage to advance the issues that we are concerned about.”

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