A Weekly Advocacy Message from Mary Woolley: The 113th Congress and the 114th

Dear Research Advocate:

Post-election analysis continues. Several publications and forums have addressed congressional action on repealing the medical device tax – this is now more about ‘when’ than ‘if’ – and additional tax changes as well. Advocacy will speed the day and make the difference on these issues. In the lead editorial of tomorrow’s issue of Science, AAAS CEO Alan Leshner and I call on the science community to connect to newly elected members of Congress; we point out that ‘out of sight’ means not only ‘out of mind’ but all too soon could mean science and scientists are ‘out of luck’! Information drawn from our AskYourCandidates! voter education initiative can help you understand priorities of those elected; so can the “new members” guide issued by The Hill.  In keeping with the imperative that science not be invisible in Washington, we will be a co-host of an in-person reception for new members next week. It’s critical to be sure science isn’t overlooked in the competition to attract attention to a wide range of issues.

It is equally important to fight for attention in the lame-duck session. Earlier this week, Research!America board member E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, co-authored an op-ed in The Hill with Paul B. Rothman, M.D. The authors warned that the nation is at risk of creating a “discovery deficit” if decision makers are not more forward-thinking with policy decisions. We expressed a similar sentiment in a letter sent yesterday to congressional leadership about the importance of passing an omnibus spending bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2015 that increases the nation’s investment in medical, health and other scientific research. That means Congress must do the particularly hard work of negotiating the “Labor-H” bill, which includes funding allocations for NIH, CDC and AHRQ. Join us in the advocacy effort to assure an omnibus in the lame-duck Congress by sending your own letter to your elected officials.

It continues to amaze me that other nations are stepping up support for science while we sit idly by Germany, which ranks fourth in R&D spending world wide, is just the latest example, declaring an immediate 5 percent increase to their federal science grants agency, followed by commitments of 3 percent per year through 2020. Ranking second behind the U.S. (Japan is third), China is taking steps to assure increased competitiveness in science and has committed to recruiting and retaining more brilliant young scientists. How is it that these nations have cohesive science strategies and the U.S. does not? Will Congress step up? As Paul Begala opined in a CNN op-ed this week, Congress should act now to accomplish investment in research and innovation, a comparatively easy undertaking. Doing so would demonstrate to the nation that Congress got the message of the election. There’s a role here for us all in helping policymakers see how championing research and innovation will engender positive regard from the public.

Here’s a good story to talk about – the recent remarkable breakthrough using stem cells to grow insulin-producing cells from human stem cells has the potential to free millions of type 1 diabetics from insulin injections. This is an exciting example of what long-standing public and private investment in medical and health research can yield. We’ve released an update to our Diabetes Fact Sheet which notes that the prevalence of the disease in the U.S. is expected to double in the next 40 years. In 2012, diabetes cost the U.S. an estimated $245 billion, up 41 percent from the previous five years. You know and I know that research is the way to bend this cost curve; it’s time to be sure that all the members of Congress – in the 113th Congress and the 114th – know that too!


Mary Woolley

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