|Reprinted from the Wall Street
Politics & Policy Bush, Seeking to
Make Room for Tax Cuts,
By David Rogers
February 16, 2001
WASHINGTON -- In trying to make room for his tax cut, President Bush is having to chop another Republican priority: increased government spending for science.
Funds for the National Science Foundation will rise just 1% in fiscal 2002, which begins in October, one of its tightest budgets in years. The U.S. Geological Survey, which performs water and biological studies for federal policy makers, is fighting to stave off a threatened 22% cut from its $885 million appropriation for this fiscal year.
The National Institutes of Health stands out, because its funding is expected to continue rising by billions of dollars under a five-year plan to double its budget by fiscal 2003. That growth rate might be difficult to sustain politically Given the spending limits imposed on the rest of the Department of Health and Human Services and the scientific community, NIH's special status is provoking resentment.
Republican Rep. James Walsh of New York, who oversees the National Science Foundation's budget, called it "absurd" to expect the agency to be held to the 1% increase now forecast. The new chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York, is agitated by the budget outlook and raised his concerns at a meeting Wednesday between White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels and moderate House Republicans.
The administration counters that its budget keeps faith with the NIH, supports tax breaks for business investments in research as well as new technology spending for the military. Still, the choices are in sharp contrast with the past several years, when a pro-science synergy developed between the Clinton administration and many Republicans in Congress. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was outspoken on the need to spend more to fund research, and science investments are popular at a time when Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has emphasized the long-term economic benefits of rising productivity rates.
"Any downturn in our science investment is cutting into our competitive edge and against our long term interests," Rep. Boehlert said.
More broadly, the squeeze on science spending reflects the hard choices ahead once President Bush begins to lay out his fiscal plan in what he calls his "State of the Budget" speech to Congress and the nation on Feb. 27. The president, who met with GOP budget writers at the White House, wants to hold appropriations next year to about $663 billion, or 4% more than the current level. That would allow an estimated $26 billion increase, counting about $5 billion expected to be set aside for emergencies. Once extra money is allocated for the Education and Defense departments, whose budgets are expected to increase by about $5 billion and $11 billion, respectively, it leaves little for the rest of the government.
NIH could eat up as much as $3.4 billion if it is to keep on pace for the five-year expansion. That leaves little room for other domestic science programs. The National Science Foundation has powerful backers in the universities that receive its grants. But, the more than 10,000 employees at the U.S. Geological Survey don't have the same high-profile, despite the agency's increased role in recent years in managing natural resources. Water supply and quality are a large part of the geological agency's mission, issues of critical importance in the West. The proposed cuts could expose Republicans to criticism for weakening the very agency charged with many of the biological studies important to the Endangered Species Act.
"Good science is essential," said GOP Rep. Ralph Regula of Ohio, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who described Geological Survey as the "premier science agency for the management of public lands."
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