It seems 2011 is shaping up to be a critical year for science funding. Back in December, I posted about congressman Eric Cantor’s plans for a new program called YouCut. This program would allow citizens to suggest federal budget cuts. The first agency on the chopping block? The NSF. Congressman Adrian Smith explains:
Shortly thereafter, the House of Representatives voted against increasing 2011 science funding from 2010 levels. From sciencemag.org:
The three federal agencies that support the vast majority of academic research would receive no more money in 2011 than in 2010 under a spending bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives last night. Although the Senate is working on a different version that would provide small increases for those agencies, the House vote is a clear signal that Congress has entered a new era of fiscal austerity.
Despite the opposition of 35 Democrats, the House leadership prevailed on a 212 to 206 vote that would hold overall discretionary spending to $1.09 trillion. That figure matches 2010 spending levels and is $46 billion below what President Barack Obama had requested for 2011.
Then, just before Christmas, the aforementioned Senate bill died. From genomeweb.com:
US President Barack Obama signed a bill last night that will keep the federal government operating for the next two months at fiscal-year 2010 spending levels, which could put in peril the White House’s and Congress’ proposed increases for biomedical research in the 2011 budget.
An omnibus US Senate spending bill that was a cheaper version of the President’s budget, and which called for a $750 million increase to the National Institutes of Health’s appropriation to $31.8 billion, died over the weekend.
As the clock ticked down toward the end of the year and the expiration of government funding, the $1.1 trillion bill was shelved in part due to opposition by Republicans to around $8 billion in earmarks that had been inserted into the bill by legislators, but which were not part of agency budgets.
Also under the omnibus bill that was set aside by the Senate late last week, The National Science Foundation was slated to receive a $418 million boost above last year’s level to $7.3 billion, which was $79 million less than the White House had asked for in its budget. The bill also called for $4.9 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and provided an extra $200 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy program.
Several organizations are now reporting general concern about the state of science funding — a topic which, until now, has been a relatively non-partisan issue in most cases. From APS.org:
Advocates for science are nervous about the uncertain future of science research funding following the 2010 midterm elections. Although experts admit that the future is far from certain, supporters of federal science funding have expressed concern that many of the new members of the House of Representatives and the new Republican leadership’s “Pledge to America” will favor budget cuts over support for research.
Experts also point out, however, that a contentious debate over science funding is relatively new to Congress.
“Science funding in general has been a pretty non-partisan topic. Both sides seem to see the benefit of R&D investment,” said Patrick Clemins director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Historically, funding for basic research has not been among the most partisan issues. Arguably the differences that have emerged over time are that Republicans tend to favor defense-related research while Democrats favor energy and environmental research. Active support for science research generally comes from those representing individual districts that have large research facilities such as major universities, a high tech industry, or a government lab.
And from New Scientist:
As Republicans take control of the US House of Representatives, science could take a hit – despite a new Congressional measure to boost funding.
“There’s going to be a big fight,” says Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The question is who blinks first.”
In one of its last votes before the holidays, Congress passed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. Contained in the act is a resolution to boost science funding over the next three years.
But with budget-minded Republicans now a majority in the House of Representatives, even maintaining science funding at existing levels could be a struggle.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the whole things plays out. So, what do you think? Should science funding be cut as part of larger austerity measures, or should it be off-limits because it’s too vital to future prosperity?