ASBMB statement on debt ceiling negotiations and the importance of science funding

April 17, 2023

As the U.S. House of Representatives negotiates the terms to raise the debt ceiling, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology urges policymakers to ensure sustainable funding for scientific research.

The United States hit its debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion in January; now it is the responsibility of Congress to raise it to ensure the U.S. can continue to function and pay its debts. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has enacted extraordinary measures to extend the deadline to June, giving the House additional months to negotiate raising the debt ceiling. But she also testified before the Senate Finance Committee that a default on U.S. debt would cause an "economic and financial catastrophe" and has urged “all members of Congress to come together to address the debt limit — without conditions and without waiting until the last minute.”

House Republicans aim to return federal government spending to fiscal year 2022 levels and reportedly have put forth a proposal to cut discretionary funding by 22%, which includes funding for science agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. This proposal would damage the U.S. research enterprise, weaken the nation's global leadership in science and technology, and threaten the scientists and students working tirelessly toward the next breakthroughs.

While details of the proposal and negotiations are not public, federal agencies estimate they would have to slash their budgets by 22% to roll back governmental spending to FY22 levels. To clarify the impact of such a massive cut in spending, House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., requested information from agency heads in March on the impact of this potential cut.

The NIH would be forced to cut funding to approximately 5,000 grants; the NSF would terminate funding for about 31,000 researchers, students and others involved in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields; and, lastly, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science would reduce research funding by $700 million, resulting in 5,200 scientists, students and technical staff losing their jobs or project support. According to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm, “reductions of this magnitude would have significant setbacks of U.S. geopolitical competitiveness to adversarial nations.”

The ASBMB cannot overstate the devastating economic and human impacts of spending cuts required to roll back government spending to FY22 levels; we will lose thousands of researchers, scientists and the next generation of the STEM workforce. The United States has been the epicenter for biomedical innovations for decades — largely thanks to sustained investments into scientific research made by the federal government.

Each federal grant supports not just a principal investigator, but a whole lab made up of staff scientists, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and even undergraduate trainees. Cutting each federal grant means multiple people will lose their livelihoods and training opportunities. We must not let this happen. The ASBMB urges policymakers to sustain the investments already made in the STEM workforce and in scientific research. We must maintain and strengthen our leadership in science and technology — not weaken it.