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Jul. 28, 2011

Science Funding and the Debt Ceiling

by April Garbuz

Click to enlarge images

By April Garbuz, Wilton High School

The US Treasury has made it clear that if the US debt ceiling is not raised by August 2nd, the country will not legally be able to fulfill its financial obligations. How this might affect the scientific community?

Both Republican and Democratic proposals amount to a budget reduction of at least $100 billion per year over the next ten years. The cuts are likely to come out of the $600-billion domestic budget, which includes funding for scientific agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The budgets for the NIH, NSF, and DOE would be reduced by 3.4%, 13%, and 9.1%, respectively, according to Obama's 2012 Budget Request.

In his State of the Union speech this January, President Obama said, "this is our generation's Sputnik moment," as he called for increased spending on education and science. Now, if a deal to cut $100 billion per year is reached -- and if cuts are applied equally to all programs starting in fiscal year 2012 -- that would result in cuts of more than $5 billion from the NIH, $1 billion from the NSF, and $800 million from the Office of Science, according to estimates in a Nature News story today.

Former George W. Bush administration science adviser John Marburger III described The House budget bill from earlier this year in an interview with USA Today as a "dramatic statement of the Republicans' view of crisis," as he admitted "if implemented it would indeed harm the nation, and it certainly would harm science."

In a statement, Congressman Boehner described the Republican's current proposal, saying: "Republicans have put forward a responsible, common-sense proposal that meets our obligations to the American people and preserves the full faith and credit of the United States. This plan is far from perfect, but it adheres to our principles of ensuring that spending cuts are greater than any debt hike and it includes no tax increases."

If no deal is reached, President Barack Obama could unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, which would stir up legal conflicts, but also remove the threat of default. In this scenario, science spending is not necessarily cut (since no spending cuts at all will have been agreed upon). If a deal is reached, and the debt ceiling is raised by agreement, more than likely there will be cuts of some kind that will impact scientific agencies. Regardless of which deal is reached, there will likely be consequences to the scientific community. We'll know better what those consequences are by August 2nd.

The latest about science appropriations: Fiscal Year 2012 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriation Agreement
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April Garbuz is a TalkingScience summer intern and a junior at Wilton High School. She loves science, debating, acting, and swimming. Ultimately, she'd like to be a research scientist.

 

About April Garbuz

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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