Election rattles biomedical research community

Published December 01 2016

I write this in the wake of the 2016 election results. Donald Trump was announced as president-elect only hours ago. Already, the tension from the research community is palpable. The reality is that there is a lot unknown about what a Trump administration will mean for the scientific community, specifically for biomedical research community. Broadly, statements made during the Trump campaign on issues like vaccines and climate change give me pause. The sentiments are in stark contrast to those of President Obama, who is inarguably pro-science.

What do we know at this moment? We know that the U.S. Congress will remain in the control of the Republican Party. A Republican-controlled Congress has been the norm for the past two years and will continue to be so for the next two. The Congress of the last two years provided a $2 billion increase to the National Institutes of Health last year and proposed sizeable increases again for fiscal year 2017 from both the House and the Senate.

We also saw introduction of the House passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, a legislative proposal that, while not perfect, serves as proof of bipartisan support of the research community. Many of the congressional leaders who led these efforts remain in their posts, including the chair of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Roy Blunt, who won re-election last night.

The concern I have for the next Congress is if it will be emboldened by election results and double down on legislative proposals that cap or cut domestic spending. The specter of sequester being a long-term problem is now very real. We have already heard grumblings from Republican lawmakers about the need to cut non-defense discretionary spending, out of which biomedical research is funded. The mystery will be how policy makers “square the circle.” How can bipartisan support for increasing investments in biomedical research be juxtaposed with a conservative agenda that wants to cut government spending?

What don’t we know? We don’t know who will be asked to lead science funding agencies like the NIH and the National Science Foundation. We don’t know who will lead the Office of Science and Technology Policy, or how closely the OSTP will be folded into the new administration. President Obama and President George W. Bush had widely different roles for the OSTP, and we don’t know how President-elect Trump will view the position.

Additionally, we do not know the impact the harsh dialogue regarding immigration will have on our community. Is immigration reform possible in the new political setting, and will the new administration recognize the important role immigrants play in the scientific enterprise? Will the tone regarding immigration serve as a disincentive to scientists globally who always had viewed America as a beacon for science? This is an issue we’ll watch closely.

Finally, we know that there will be challenges for the community and that throughout those challenges, the Public Affairs Advisory Committee at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and other advocates nationwide will continue to work hard to ensure the needs of our membership are met in the years to come.

Benjamin Corb Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.