Dear Research Advocate:
Yesterday, the Budget Conference Committee, chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI-01), met for the first time. The committee only has until December 13 to accomplish its task of producing at least a short-term budget. Expectations are modest considering the short timeline, the House and Senate recess schedules, and the number of issues declared “off the table.” There is some talk of replacing sequestration, at least for the remainder of FY14, with selected cuts. In order to assure that research is not cut and in fact is prioritized for an increase, many stakeholders must speak up. It is essential that our issue is discussed as a priority every day in this 43-day countdown — in the media, in hometown districts, by staffers and by our elected officials. Please be sure to speak out. Urge your Members of Congress to advocate on your behalf — and on behalf of all who are depending on research for health — to their colleagues on the Budget Conference Committee.
Sequestration really must go! Useful facts to bolster our case about how sequestration is stalling scientific R&D in this country — to the detriment of business and consumers alike — is now at the ready. Columnist Gerald F. Seib of The Wall Street Journal points to many consumer products and their components that have origins in federally supported basic research, adding billions of dollars to our economy over the decades. And the Science Coalition has released a new report Sparking Economic Growth 2.0 highlighting 100 companies whose beginnings were aided by federally funded university research. Think of Google’s roots in NSF funding and Genentech’s in NIH, for just two prominent examples. The report describes the role these research-based companies play in bringing transformative innovations to market, creating jobs and contributing to economic growth. It’s all too easy to forget, once a business is thriving, how taxpayer funding helped them get its start.
My letter to the editor today in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-PA) recent visit to the University of Pennsylvania urged other elected officials to also demonstrate attention and support for medical research. Now, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for doubling the budget of the National Institutes of Health. As the senator points out, the NIH must be protected from annual budget battles if we are to ensure that scientific discovery continues unabated. The U.S. still has the scientific capability and talent, but if we are to maintain our prowess in research and innovation, our nation’s leaders must make it a high priority. It’s good to hear the kind of vision Senator Warren is espousing by setting a bold, breathtaking goal that stirs our aspirations. As Bono has said, “incrementalism leaves the audience in a snooze.” I think we all should be thinking about how to operationalize the goal of putting research to work at the level of scientific opportunity. Harold Varmus, Mike Bishop and Marc Kirschner did just that in an article in Science in 1993, making the case that the state of science justified doubling the then-budget of the NIH. It’s time for that kind of case to be made by leaders of the science community again; I believe that the public will be supportive and that advocates will readily come forward to help make it a reality.