The World-Herald’s Washington Bureau rounds up news highlights from Capitol Hill and beyond.
Science or boondoggles. Pigeons can become pathological gamblers.
Cats are less likely to poop outside the litter box if pampered with treats. Children get less distracted if they pretend to be Batman while performing chores.
Those are among the findings of various research projects supported by federal funds — projects that are just the latest to attract mockery from Republicans in Congress.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, cited them recently in introducing the Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act.
That bill would require that any project supported by federal funds include a readily available price tag. If it doesn’t, the administration can withhold funding.
A Government Accountability Office review Ernst requested found that federal agencies were not enforcing existing disclosure requirements. So Ernst is pushing to tighten those rules and put some teeth in them.
Research projects that sound silly have long been a target of conservative lawmakers complaining about wasteful spending.
Defenders note that important discoveries often come from odd sources. Imagine how ridiculous it would be to study whether a random blob of mold could have health benefits.
And yet that’s more or less how we got penicillin and antibiotics that have saved countless lives.
The study on casino-loving pigeons, for example, could yield insight that would help compulsive gamblers of the human variety.
Still, Ernst said Americans deserve more information and cited a study on false perception dealing with a potato chip that resembled Elvis Presley.
“The COST Act ensures that government agencies follow our transparency laws so we know how much a study on Elvis-shaped potato chips costs our taxpayers,” Ernst said.
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Good and bad news for ethanol. The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposed rule allowing the year-round sale of higher-ethanol blends known as E15. The rule, which will be open for public comment until April 29, is a key policy goal for the ethanol industry.
But the sector and its allies are also keeping an eye on what the agency will do regarding federal mandates that refiners blend a certain amount of ethanol into the fuel supply every year.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said early last week that she’s wary of the EPA, given some of the agency’s moves under previous Administrator Scott Pruitt that undermined ethanol.
“They better not negate the positives we get from year-round sale of E15 with any kind of changes to RINs,” Fischer said, referring to the accounting mechanism behind the mandate.
Later in the week came news that the EPA had granted refineries additional waivers from the mandate, prompting a statement from American Coalition for Ethanol CEO Brian Jennings.
“Any benefit of selling E15 year-round will be wiped out until and unless EPA gets back to the rule of law when it comes to these refinery waivers,” Jennings said.
Defending her proposal. Ernst recently unveiled legislation that would provide paid family leave to new parents if they agree to delay their Social Security benefits.
Reporters asked Ernst about people who might take the benefits but struggle later to work that extra time when they reach retirement age.
Ernst stressed that the proposal would not be any kind of mandate, but a choice for moms and dads.
“What we are doing is providing an opportunity, or an option, for parents to take,” Ernst said. “They don’t have to take it, and certainly what we’re proposing is better than absolutely nothing at all.”
Agriculture budget clash. President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint released last week proposes cutting many areas of the federal government — including U.S. Department of Agriculture programs ranging from food stamps to crop insurance.
During his weekly call with agriculture-focused reporters, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was asked about those proposed cuts, given that they would particularly affect areas among the most supportive of the president.
Grassley suggested that those proposals won’t get very far and invoked an old adage.
“A president proposes; Congress disposes,” Grassley said. “We have power of the purse. So we’re going to make the decision. The president doesn’t like it? He can veto it.”