As the calendar flips from 2011 to 2012, we in the Public Affairs Office reflect on the year that was and try to predict the year that will be. Unfortunately, Carnac the Magnificent refused to take our calls, and predicting politics in this era of partisanship is about as easy as particle physics. First, a brief look at what Washington did, and didn’t, do in 2011:
Congress: The 112th Congress has, to date, seen 54 bills signed into law by President Obama. By comparison, the 111th Congress had 383 bills signed into law by Obama. Of course, in the 111th, Democrats controlled the U.S. House and Senate; whereas, in the 112th, Republicans control the House. The last time there was a Democratic president and the House switched to Republican rule was after the Republican Revolution of 1994, with Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House of the 104th Congress and rival President Clinton in the White House. As contentious as that time was, Congress still saw 333 bills signed into law. The track record of the 112th Congress is atrocious, and both parties are to blame. The House continues to pass legislation so extreme there is no chance of it passing the Senate, let alone being signed into law by the president, and the Senate does…well, the Senate doesn’t do very much.
Budget: Congress, in one of its last actions of 2011, managed to pass a budget for fiscal 2012. The good news is that agencies that fund biomedical research like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health saw increases. The bad news is the NIH increase was modest and well below the president’s request. Additionally, Congress authorized creation of a translational science center at NIH, a central pillar in NIH Director Francis Collins’ 2011 activities.
The not-so-super committee: Things got so bad in Washington when our (ahem) “leaders” brought the nation to the brink of default for the fi rst time in our 228-year history that Obama established a “super committee” of 12 members of Congress (equally divided by party and chamber) to put politics aside and do the heavy lifting the full Congress was unable to do. They were tasked with developing a plan to cut $1.5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years. After 111 days, the committee disbanded, having failed to come to a bipartisan agreement.
After a dysfunctional 2011, 2012 may not be too different, as all 435 representatives and 33 senators are up for re-election. And then there’s that pesky 2012 presidential election. Fear not, biomedical community! The Public Affairs Office and Public Affairs Advisory Committee will work diligently all year to tackle the most important issues facing you all. Here’s a peek at some of the issues on our list:
Funding: Although the NIH budget over the past few years has been stable or modestly increased, when adjusted for infl ation, the NIH actually has been losing purchasing power for the past fi ve years. We will work with Congress to ensure strong support for funding at the NIH and other research-funding agencies and work with the NIH leadership, sharing our thoughts on how to increase the amount of investigator-initiated research being done even in a tightening fiscal environment.
Regulatory burden: We understand that increased regulation on research (be it in the usage of animals or the tracking of time) puts an unnecessary and frequently expensive burden on you, the researcher. We will work to identify ways Congress can ease the regulatory burden on the scientifi c community.
Workforce issues: With regard to issues such as Ph.D. training, K–12 science education, and immigration and student visa reform, we will search for ways to ensure there is a robust workforce pipeline to keep America a global leader in biomedical research.
Didn’t see an issue you want addressed? Looking for ways to get involved in shaping policy? Eager to learn more about the issues? Visit www.bit.ly/sUOe1L, read our blog (www.asbmbpolicy.wordpress.com), which is updated several times a week, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Benjamin Corb (email@example.com) is director of public affairs at ASBMB.