American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology public affairs staff members Peter Farnham and Kyle M. Brown spent May 5 on Capitol Hill, escorting ASBMB members serving on the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology board to meetings with various Congressmen and Senators.
In the Senate, ASBMB members Margaret K. Offerman (American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.) and Louis B. Justement (University of Alabama at Birmingham) met with staff of both senators from their states (U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.) to discuss National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation funding. The message delivered was clear: FASEB (and ASBMB) are advocating for $37 billion for NIH for 2011 and $7.7 billion for NSF. While the budget request for NSF approximately is in line with the Administration’s request, the President has asked for only an additional $1 billion for NIH this year, approximately a 3.5 percent increase (which just meets biomedical inflation).
During the various discussions with Senate staff members, it was clear that they are well aware of the so-called “cliff” issue, which is shorthand for the problem of what happens to support for science at these two agencies when funding from the stimulus bill passed in the spring of 2009 expires at the end of fiscal year 2010.
NIH received an additional $10 billion over a two-year period under the stimulus bill, and this additional money generated more than 20,000 research proposals, only a small fraction of which were actually funded. However, thousands of jobs were created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money, as scientists hired lab techs, bought small pieces of equipment, and otherwise put the money to good use. Nevertheless, it was made abundantly clear that we would be lucky to get the President’s request for NIH, let alone an additional $5 billion.
The message we received overall was that this will be a very difficult year for funding, as most members of Congress are becoming worried about excessive federal spending; in addition, a continuing resolution to fund the government at current levels is likely— with an election coming up in November, no one in the democratic leadership wants their rank and file members to have to campaign while defending additional tough votes, particularly after passage of the health care bill.
A very unusual highlight of the day was when Sen. Sessions dropped into the meeting arranged for Justement. Sessions stayed for about twenty minutes and discussed the budget situation in some detail. It is quite unusual for senators to do this, as they have so many demands on their time.
ASBMB staff and members also visited U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.; U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.; U.S. Sen. Roland W. Burris, D-Ill.; U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
Peter Farnham (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of public affairs at ASBMB.