By Bob Samors
Office of the Vice President for Research
August is a great time to be in D.C. The town is empty, primarily because Congress is on recess, and it is not as hot as July. Then again, in this kind of environment, one can be lulled into a false sense of calm, just before the storm hits.
And what a storm it is shaping up to be. When Congress returns from its break, there will be 25 calendar days before the beginning of the next fiscal year. At present, none of the appropriations bills required to run the government beyond Sept. 30 have been signed into law. While 11 of the 13 have been passed by the House and six passed by the Senate, none have yet made it to the presidents desk for signature (or veto). Add to that the fact that there are significant differences between the House and Senate and between Congress and the president on many issues contained in the various bills, and the potential for impasse and some level of government shutdown come Oct. 1 becomes greater.
Recently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) prepared an analysis of the results of House action to date on federal support for research and development (R&D). Their findings indicate that, if enacted in their present form, these bills would result in the following:
So far, the Republican leadership is focusing most of the research-related cuts on the applied side of the spectrumtargeting programs it views as corporate welfare and activities that the private sector would or should support if the government were not involved. However, there are a number of members of Congress, particularly the House Republican freshmen, who, in their zeal to cut the budget, feel that research has not been cut enough.
During recent floor debates, their own party leaders have described efforts to reduce research spending even further as cannibalism and the proponents as Neanderthals. It is also important to keep in mind that the Senate has not yet acted on most of the research-related measures, including NIH, NSF and NASA, so the AAAS numbers could change in either direction.
That uncertainty points up a broader issue. On a wide range of fronts, including research-related issues, there are quite significant differences emerging among the various factions trying to control the debates and set the agenda. Obviously there exist fundamental differences between Congress and the president. In addition, the House and Senate Republican majorities clearly have different approaches to many of the major issues being discussed. Further, within each chamber there are considerable splits within the Republicans about how far and how fast to go.
The picture in Washington is extremely murky; there is a good deal of talk, but a lot of disagreement even within the majority, and very little has been finalized. What that means is that: 1) I will make no predictions about the outcome of any issue currently before the Congress; and 2) there still exists the imperative and the opportunity to continue educating politicians and others as to the importance of federal support for university-based research.
In the meantime, I will continue to try to keep you informed about what is going on in Washington and urge you to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.