A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Reading Between the Lines, part 2

Dear Research Advocate,

In last week’s letter, I highlighted research-related themes in the Republican National Platform. The good news included explicit support for basic and applied research and a pledge to make the R&D tax credit permanent. The bad news included strident criticism of FDA — such that support for adequate funding was unclear — and opposition to embryonic stem cell research. The Democratic platform asserts that Democrats will “double funding for key basic research agencies.” It also goes further than the Republican platform in improving the research and development tax credit and places a very strong emphasis on science education as critical to our innovation economy. And, it reiterates Democratic support for embryonic stem cell research.

Do platforms matter? Yes and no. Yes, in that the language comes from a broad base of each party’s membership. It lays out principles that we can ask policy makers to adhere to, and we can see how well those principles track with the polls we regularly commission. But also no — as a respected Nobel laureate reminded me in an insightful response to my last letter, it is a mistake to breathe easy based on the rhetoric in these platforms. Actions speak louder than words, and the fact is Republicans and Democrats alike supported the Budget Control Act (BCA), which not only applies across-the-board cuts to research spending but also tightly restrains annual growth in discretionary spending. That makes it difficult to envision any kind of “moonshot” for research or even a basic policy frame that truly promotes research and innovation. Despite what these platforms assert, policy makers have taken their eye off the ball. The public is not happy about that fact. Our new polling data shows that only 19% of likely voters believe elected officials are paying enough attention to combating disease. For more on this point, see my piece this week in The Hill’s Congress Blog. It ends with a call to action to engage the candidates — you can lead the way in doing just that among your network of colleagues, family and friends.

In case you missed it, a U.S. appeals court has upheld the legality of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research — a major victory for advocates and patients alike. See this recent ScienceInsider article to learn more about the ruling.

In past letters, I’ve written extensively about the grave threat that sequester poses to American research and innovation, and the news seems to be getting worse. According to the Alliance for a Stronger FDA, the user fees that FDA collects for review of drugs and devices may be subject to sequestration in addition to the funding provided through taxes. In effect, the FDA budget would be double-slashed with cuts totaling $294 million! Just imagine the havoc that these cuts would wreak on our nation’s ability to bring new, critical treatments to patients. With Congress reconvening next week, please remind lawmakers that they are playing with fire. Research is important. Innovation is important. Blind, across-the board funding cuts aren’t just an abdication of congressional responsibility, they are a divestment in medical and economic progress.

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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