January 2011

New year, new Congress, same concerns

At the end of last year, House Republicans met and chose the incoming leaders for House Committees, ushering in a new era of leadership and leaving those of us in the scientific community wondering exactly what these leadership changes will mean to the nation’s scientific enterprise.

As the book opens on 2011, many of us use this time to reflect on the year that was and set lofty New Year’s resolutions. For some of us, it’s to lose that 10 pounds from the holidays; for others, it’s to read that book or spend more time with our families, and, for a select few, it is to cut all nondefense discretionary funding in the federal government by 18 percent.

That’s right – new year, new Congress, new majority, new priorities. At the end of last year, House Republicans met and chose the incoming leaders for House committees, ushering in a new era of leadership and leaving the scientific community wondering exactly what these leadership changes will mean to the nation’s scientific enterprise.

U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, R-Ky., will be responsible for cutting federal spending as he takes over as chairnan of the House Appropriations Committee. Having beaten out appropriations committee veteran Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., Rogers will play a key role in delivering on House Republicans’ goals of cutting federal spending and is already on record as supporting an 18 percent cut in nondefense discretionary spending for fiscal 2011, bringing funding to most agencies back to pre-2008 (and pre-American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) levels. Rogers said in a prepared statement that he looks forward to “fighting for serious reforms of the committee, bringing fiscal sanity back to our budgeting process, performing vigorous oversight of the failed job-creation policies of the Obama administration and moving our nation forward.” Rogers will have some work to do to prove his fortitude to cut spending, especially with an incoming freshman class of Republicans who are aggressive on cutting spending and ending Washington establishment practices like earmarks. However, Rogers was the 10th-most prolific user of earmarks out of the 435 House members. One is left to wonder if he will be able to overcome this addiction in his new role as chairman.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee (important because of its jurisdiction over health-care reform issues) will be chaired by 13-term Republican Fred Upton from Michigan. In a prepared statement, Upton listed some of his party’s priorities that were key planks in its November election platform when it took control of the House. “Republicans were swept into the majority with a clear mandate from the American people: repeal Obamacare, cut the size of government, reduce out-of-control spending, reverse burdensome, job-killing regulations and help put folks back to work. Under my watch, these will be the committee’s very top priorities.”

At the helm of the science committee, 16-year veteran Ralph Hall, R-Texas, is expected to be at the forefront of Republican efforts to probe the Obama administration’s climate policies next year. Hall has said he’s not a climate skeptic. “If they quote me correctly, I’ve never said it’s outrageous to even think about global warming. I want some proof,” he said. “If I get the chair and have the gavel, I’m going to subpoena people from both sides and try to put them under oath and try to find out what the real facts are.” Hall is a longtime member of the science committee, known by most on Capitol Hill as one of the most bipartisan committees in all of the Congress.

What do these changes mean for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the scientific community? It is a foregone conclusion that increases in federal investment in biomedical research will be few and far between. It falls upon the community of researchers, universities and societies to educate the new Congress on the importance of robust and reliable funding for biomedical research and to identify ways in which more research can be squeezed out of limited resources. Why not make one of your New Year’s resolutions this year to get more involved and dedicate a small portion of your time to being an advocate for your field?

Benjamin W. Corb (bcorb@asbmb.org) is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

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