Congress's Sci-Tech Agenda to Shift under Democrats ; Global Warming and Stem-Cell Research Are Topics That Will Give Bipartisanship on the Hill an Early Test

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For clues to whether bipartisan cooperation in Washington will take root or disappear from the table as quickly as the china after last week's get-acquainted lunches at the White House, watch how some key science and technology issues play out.

Ordinarily, broad science goals - such as better science education or the American Competitiveness Initiative - draw bipartisan support. But there are some divisive science topics on the Democrats' early agenda - namely embryonic stem-cell research - and these highly charged science and environmental issues will be one barometer of the durability of cross-aisle cooperation.

"If this stated spirit of bipartisanship is to occur, one of the best places to look is going to be in the area of science and technology," says Roger Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "If it doesn't occur in science and technology, I wouldn't expect that it's likely to occur elsewhere."

The potential for fractiousness exists in a number of policy areas where the ideas of the new Democratic majority differ from those of Republican lawmakers or the Bush administration. Among them are funding for research into alternative-energy sources, what to do about global warming, the future of the space program, and charges that the Bush team has muzzled federal scientists and ignored scientific results in crafting environmental and public-health regulations.

Players who say they felt disenfranchised when GOP lawmakers dominated Capitol Hill view the Democrats' post- election ascension as an opportunity. Several environmental groups are slated to hold a joint press conference Monday laying out their collective agenda to address issues ranging from grazing on public lands and the state of national parks. They are expected to push for measures to curtail global warming that are tougher than the voluntary approaches the Bush administration has offered so far.

In the House, Democrats are identifying a series of hearings they want to hold that deal with these themes. In the Senate, Barbara Boxer (D) of California is slated to take the helm of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee. Last Thursday, in a briefing with reporters, she said she aims to draft legislation that contains elements of a California-like approach to curbing emissions of greenhouse gases. The state aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The midterm election, which unseated several moderate Republicans, gave the GOP delegation a more conservative tone, analysts say. …