Obama seeks agreement with lawmakers to lift automatic spending cuts and tax increases set for new year.
By David Kramer
Reaching agreement with Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff—across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts—is critical to prevent cuts to investments in basic research and education, President Obama told reporters this week. Touting his plan to raise taxes on Americans who make more than $250 000, Obama said at a 14 November press conference that the automatic budget cuts and tax increases that are due to take effect on 2 January can be avoided in a way “that does not hurt middle-class families; that does not hurt our seniors; doesn’t hurt families with disabled kids; allows us to continue to invest in those things that make us grow like basic research and education, [and] helping young people afford going to college.”
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) estimates that federal R&D budgets would decline $12.1 billion in fiscal year 2013 if the spending cuts mandated by last year’s Budget Control Act take effect. By agency, the Department of Defense would lose $6.9 billion in R&D; National Institutes of Health, $2.4 billion; Department of Energy, $972 million; NSF, $456 million; NASA, $763 million; and Department of Agriculture, $189 million, according to the analysis.
Matthew Hourihan, director of the R&D budget and policy program for AAAS, said as many as 19 states could lose $1 billion or more in federal R&D funding over the next five years if the mandatory cuts, also known as sequestration, proceed. Such reductions would bring the total R&D spending of the major federal funding agencies down to a level last seen in 2002 (measured in constant 2012 dollars). Through FY 2017, annual mandatory R&D cuts would total $57.5 billion.
Subra Suresh, NSF director, told a House hearing on 15 November that the sequestration would lower NSF’s $7 billion current year funding by 8.2%, which would result in 1000 fewer new grants and could impact thousands of scientists. The cutbacks would also discourage young people from pursuing science studies, he added.
Steven Fluharty, vice provost for research at the University of Pennsylvania, warned that sequestration would cost $50 million to $60 million in lost research grants for the university next year, and it would result in the layoff of at least 1000 employees and postdocs at the institution. “Some research programs will be halted on the cusp on some breakthrough; that is undeniable,” Fluharty told a 14 November AAAS Capitol Hill briefing.
Orlando Auciello, distinguished fellow at Argonne National Laboratory, said some DOE laboratories have already reduced their laboratory-directed R&D (LDRD) budgets by 5% to 10% in anticipation of the sequestration. The LDRD programs, he noted, are the source of support for a disproportionate number of the national labs’ postdocs.
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) called the fiscal cliff “an artificial crisis.” Lawmakers, he told the AAAS briefing, should be focusing on “doing things instead of talking about what we can’t do.” The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has shown that investments in R&D do produce jobs in the short term. “Money spent on R&D, even borrowed money, pays back big,” Holt declared.