When you’re going through hell — keep going

One of the top lobbying activities of 2013!

In a year when progress was difficult to find, there was a silver lining! The ASBMB played a major part in notching one of the top 10 lobbying victories of 2013, as ranked by the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill. As a member of NDD United, a broad coalition of groups unified in opposition to the indiscriminate cuts of sequestration, we were able to win a significant, albeit temporary, victory against budget cuts and sequestration in the recent deal that was passed. In addition to meeting with legislators and stressing the importance of federal funding for research, the ASBMB also authored the science chapter of NDD United’s report “Faces of Austerity” available at nddunited.org.

2013 was, from a legislative standpoint, a year to be forgotten.
Legislating from crisis to crisis, sequestering federal investments in basic research funding and shutting down the government were the hallmarks of the first session of the 113th Congress. With a mere 60 or so bills enacted into law, Congress passed 20 fewer laws than the previous so-called “least effective” Congress back in 1995. However, the year ended with the first bipartisan budget resolution coming out of a divided government since 1986, marking perhaps a slight change in the level of dysfunction. We in the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s public affairs office are hoping so!
As we begin 2014, we see an environment that is rich with potential. Perhaps it’s the eggnog hangover from the holidays, but we are optimistic. Here are some areas that our legislative agenda will emphasize:

  • • Funding: Of course, funding for basic research will continue to be front and center. The budget deal in December laid the groundwork to replace some of the funding lost through sequestration, but it is only a short-term deal that doesn’t provide the growth plan a sustainable scientific research enterprise needs. The budget deal also provides only short-term relief from sequestration, so we still must work to remove sequestration and the unmanageable budget caps associated with the policy to transition from an austerity-focused to growth-focused budget process.
  • • Immigration reform: Democrats and Republicans came together in the Senate to pass a bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform plan that smooths the path for the world’s best and brightest to come to the United States for education and stay for jobs. The House has not taken up the Senate’s reform vision, even though there are those in the House leadership who support reforms. We plan to continue to advocate for policies that keep America the global leader in scientific research and innovation with the hope that an agreement can be reached.
  • • Government travel: Due in large part to budget constraints, travel for government scientists has been limited. This has led to a decrease in their participation in scientific meetings across the country and world. Low attendance is bad for scientific societies that host meetings, to be sure, but it’s quite damaging to the open exchange of ideas that takes place at meetings. We will continue to fight these restrictions for the sake of keeping government scientists at the forefront of their scientific disciplines.
  • • Protecting peer review: Attacks on research grants with funny-sounding titles have been a frequent occurrence in today’s partisan environment. They look to continue into 2014, as the House debates a bill that would politicize science in a way never done before. The peer-review process is not perfect, but it’s the best system we have to ensure that only the most credible science is funded, particularly in these difficult fiscal times.

You can continue to check this column for updates on what the ASBMB is doing related to these policy areas, or you can visit our website. You also can e-mail publicaffairs@asbmb.org and tell us what you think our legislative priorities should be this year.

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