A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: Moving from the Envy of the World to the Puzzle of the World

Dear Research Advocate:

NIH Director Francis Collins was recently interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article that would reinvigorate even the weariest research advocate. Dr. Collins captured the legacy and unprecedented potential of research for health, as well as the counterintuitive neglect of it, in a truly compelling manner. Dr. Collins made similarly captivating comments yesterday at the Washington Ideas Forum: “We’re going from the envy of the world,” he said, “to the puzzle of the world. Other nations are mystified that we have stopped following our own playbook — the one they are using now to drive their economy and improve health and quality of life for their own populations.”

Of course they’re mystified. Policy makers are setting Americans up for needless suffering and America up for decline. It’s past time to follow the lead of, for example, the Australian government; despite battling austerity, it has announced an increase in funding for the Australian Research Council’s research grants. And Australia is not alone — China is now on track to overtake U.S. spending (actual spending and as a percentage of GDP) within five years.

Also at the Washington Ideas Forum, Mylan Pharmaceuticals CEO Heather Bresch pulled no punches when speaking about the importance of a level regulatory and tax playing field if the U.S. is to retain leadership in the pharma and biotech industries. She observed that shareholders see more and more value in companies domiciling outside the U.S. This is undeniably a controversial topic, but one that needs to be confronted head on. When asked where outside the U.S., exactly, she said, “Everywhere else looks better.” Talk about a wake-up call for Washington!

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill yesterday, the Budget Conference Committee chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI-01) met for only the second time since the committee was chartered. The Congressional Budget Office’s director, Doug Elmendorf, warned the 29 committee members not to “make things worse” by failing to come to agreement and forcing another government shutdown. With less than a month remaining before the committee must act and nearly two months before appropriations run out (again), time is a precious commodity. This is a good time to re-read Research!America Chair John Porter’s op-ed, “A do-nothing Congress isn’t healthy,” and contact your elected officials.

This week brought additional and excellent ammunition against sequestration: The American Heart Association released a new booklet, “Sequester Stories: How Heart and Stroke Research Hangs in the Balance,” detailing the very real impact of budget cuts on lifesaving research and the careers of researchers. A new survey by the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the Science Coalition documents the impact that universities are reporting: research delayed, fewer research grants received, jobs lost and projects canceled. The NDD United Report, “Faces of Austerity: How Budget Cuts Have Made Us Sicker, Poorer, and Less Secure,” features both personal stories and alarming facts to make an airtight case against sequestration. Fortunately, some in Washington are making an effort to understand the importance of public health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kudos to the Campaign for Public Health Foundation for organizing a successful bipartisan tour of the CDC, and to the members and key staff who participated.


Mary Woolley

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