Will Federally Funded Basic Research Be Victimized By Republican Budget Unrest?

The long-expected clash between Republican campaign rhetoric and the political reality of Republican control begins in the House this week. And what happens to R&D funding in the budget process is still unclear, but because of its size and future benefits as distinguished from immediate impact, its current $130+billion will not be unnoticed by a revenue-starved “controlled” Congress.

Beyond this week’s start of House committee consideration of ACA, including its repeal of revenue producers. And the administration has promised “details” this week on its $54 bn. increase in discretionary defense spending. This implies an equivalent decrease in non-military civilian discretionary spending. Discretionary spending is about a third of our entire federal budget. The remaining two thirds are mandatory paying for debt interest, and the Social Security/ Medicare entitlements Trump has vowed to leave untouched. Like the “Wall” new expenses, must be offset by future budget savings, either from future reductions in mandatory entitlements or from discretionary expenditures like the Depts. of State, EPA, and AID. Repealing small fry funding for the Arts, Head Start Americorps, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting contribute little to the savings needed to offset Trump’s announced spending increases and tax reductions. Other spending offset sources like more revenue or increased debt have their own problems. So, to put it bluntly, R&D’s annual $130bn. appropriation which includes future basic science funding at NIH, NSA, and DOE is a very tempting offsets target. Will R&D funding it be trimmed… and if so how much? Two Trump budgets (for 2016 and 2017) must clear the House this Spring. And while the coming budget battle may be too complex to knowledgeably monitor both, for those of us who care about federally funded basic research, it makes sense to pay attention, stay alert and be ready to act if R&D funding goes on the chopping block. Here’s the problem. R&D funding invests in the future. The budget quagmire is now. If a deadlock among Republicans emerges Republicans collectively must resolve it because there is no one else to blame. They have postponed defining their actual positions for years. Will they now postpone implementation of long term investment expenditures whose beneficial effect is not immediate?

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