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FYI Number 92: June 17, 2005

House Rejects Move to Cut FY 2006 NSF Funding

With little warning during the House of Representative's consideration of the FY 2006 funding bill for the National Science Foundation, Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat representing a district in New York City, offered an amendment to reduce funding for the National Science Foundation by $126.2 million in order to increase funding for a program supporting the hiring of police officers. Weiner's amendment was rejected by a vote of 31-396 (see the end of this FYI for roll call vote.) The following are excerpts from the approximately ten minutes of House debate on this amendment on June 15. Paragraphs have been combined in the interest of space.

Mr. WEINER. "Mr. Chairman, this is another amendment that offers to bolster the COPS program. The hiring count is zeroed out in this bill, and it takes the funds of the National Science Foundation, reduces the NSF not back to the level it was before its deep cuts, but puts it back to where it was in 2004 before those big cuts began. First, let me say that a consensus is emerging in this House. We have had amendment after amendment that has been offered to take the COPS program back from the scrap heap, back from a point at zero, and try to restore the hiring component. . . . Let me be very clear, I think the NSF should be higher than my amendment and higher than the level provided by this House, and I believe the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Mollohan) and the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf) would both like to have more than they have allocated. The COPS program should not be zeroed out because it has been arguably the most successful Federal law enforcement program ever created, and it is also the most democratic."

"So what does this amendment do? First of all, before my opponents stand up, let me do the argument for them. The NSF is a valuable agency. We are not saying it is not valuable. We are saying that [the] dramatic increase they are going to get this year be limited to bringing them back to where they were in the 2004 budget before we slashed it down. Not that it should be cut, not that it should be reduced. It should be flatted out, increased rather, but only to the point where it was in 2004 before we had the reduction last year. I think it is fair and reasonable.

"We also have to be careful about something else. We are in the unpleasant circumstance of having to take from Peter to pay Paul. . . . . So before we get into this argument about what is better, science or police, I say they are both very, very important.. . . . This amendment seeks to balance two ideals."

"Mr. [Frank] WOLF [R-VA, appropriations subcommittee chairman]. "Mr. Chairman, I rise in very strong opposition to the amendment. It would inflict a major blow to the Nation's basic scientific research. The Nation has reached a crisis point in terms of science and technology. Any advantage that we have enjoyed is rapidly eroding. The research budget should be considered part of the national security budget. It is the most strategic investment we make in maintaining America's leadership in the world. We worked hard within our limited allocation to provide an increased funding level in the bill for NSF's basic scientific research, $157 million above last year's level. Every outside group said this is good. It is above what the Bush administration had, and to take it out now would send a message to the scientific community and the university community that would demoralize them. It would make us a second- and third-rate Nation. I urge a strong ‘no' vote on the amendment.

"Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from New York (Mr. Boehlert), chairman of the Committee on Science and one who knows so much about this issue."

"Mr. [Sherwood] BOEHLERT [R-NY]. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment. I am a little bit surprised that the gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner), who is a former member of the Committee on Science, and let me add a valuable member of the Committee on Science, I am a little surprised he would be offering this amendment. Let me say what I have said many times in response to earlier amendments. We cannot be decimating a valuable program so another can do a little bit better, and that is what this amendment would do.

"The National Science Foundation is not exactly flush with cash these days. The appropriators deserve to be congratulated for the funding they have been able to find; but let me remind Members, it is not as much as NSF received in fiscal year 2004. The approval rate for grant applications is down 20 percent. The approval rate in some subfields, some specialties, is in the single digits. Meanwhile, NSF is being asked to take on more responsibilities, such as footing the bill for the ice-breaking activities in the Antarctic. This is not the time to be cutting NSF. NSF does not have cash to spare.

"Even the gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner) recognizes this because he proudly joined us in signing a letter requesting far more money for NSF than this bill provides. That letter talks about how vital NSF programs are to our Nation's economic future. If one takes the long view, it is kind of ironic to take money away from NSF to find funding for local law enforcement. If our economy falters, then crime will surely go up. And if we do not invest in basic research, then over time our economy surely will falter. We should not be doing this. This is not the right way to approach it."

"I urge opposition to this amendment which will take money away from a vital cash-strapped agency which is dealing with our future. No one will fund basic research if the Federal Government does not. That is not true of local law enforcement. So I urge opposition to this amendment."

"Mr. [Alan] MOLLOHAN [D-WV, Ranking subcommittee Member]. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong opposition to this amendment. The gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner) says before we get into this argument between COPS and NSF and NOAA and all of the other good programs in this bill, we are into the argument of balancing. He says we are trying to balance two ideals. I want to assure the gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner) that the chairman [Wolf], the ranking member [himself], and all of the [Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations] subcommittee, in addition to the full Committee on Appropriations, have gone through an extensive exercise of balancing these ideals, more than two ideals. There are many competing domestic programs in this bill. They are all worthy purposes and projects, and they all serve our country in different ways; and given our allocation, we spent a lot of time balancing these ideals.

"I suggest that this amendment puts these ideals in imbalance, particularly with regard to NSF. The whole stated purpose of moving the science programs from VA-HUD and independent agencies last year as we went through what I considered to be an unnecessary exercise of eliminating that committee, the stated purpose was to reemphasize science.

"In a small way this committee has been able to do that in the sense that the chairman restored to the National Science Foundation moneys that we were not able to give it last year. In other words, in 2005 we cut NSF. That was a terrible thing to do, and it was for reasons I will speak to in just a moment. However, we have restored that money in this bill. We have done the best for the COPS program, for the law enforcement programs that we could. Although State and local law enforcement, as we have seen by the Obey amendments and the debate with regard to them, are certainly underfunded, so is the National Science Foundation which is such a critical area for the Nation's future economy.

"I think everybody agrees that science research is the cutting edge, is the precursor, if you will, for a modern economy. If we are going to stay ahead of the economic conditions, of the economic realities, of the economic phenomenon that we all find ourselves in with economic globalization, we need to be at the forefront of research. We need to be at the forefront of development. That requires a Federal role in facilitating, in sponsoring, in sending the signal that the country needs to invest in research in collaboration with our great university institutions and our great corporations and small businesses and the nonprofit sector that are so active with the National Science Foundation funding.

"I would point out these are competitive grants. They are particularly important as they facilitate the research that gives us that economic edge in the world. I strongly support maintaining our funding for the National Science Foundation. It would be disastrous and it would be extremely shortsighted for all of the reasons I stated to do otherwise. Mr. Chairman, I strongly oppose this amendment and would strongly encourage all of our colleagues on a bipartisan basis to oppose this amendment, not because we oppose COPS; we support the COPS program, and we will do everything we can for that program. At the same time, the other ideal that the sponsor of the amendment talked about, the NSF, cannot experience this kind of a cut and do the job that it needs to do."

"Mr. [David] OBEY [D-WI, Ranking Democratic Member of full House Appropriations Committee]. Mr. Chairman, I have spent a lot of time not just this session, but in the two previous sessions of this Congress, fighting for additional funding for law enforcement assistance grants. I take a back seat to no one in my interest in doing that. But I absolutely agree with virtually every word said by the subcommittee chairman, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Wolf), and by the ranking member, the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Mollohan). I have spent over 30 years on the Labor-Health-Education subcommittee. One of our main concerns on that subcommittee is health research principally centered in the National Institutes of Health. Anyone from NIH will tell you that much of the progress that they have been able to make in the past 20 years has been rooted in the most basic of all scientific research, and a good deal of that research has been funded in the past by the National Science Foundation. If we cut back the National Science Foundation, we are eating our own seed corn, we are eroding the ability of this economy to grow, we are weakening the ability of this society to increase human knowledge, and we are weakening our efforts to improve health as well.

"If you would take a look at our research budget today, at our basic research budget, we are spending a smaller percentage of our national income on basic research today than we have been spending at any time since those numbers have been kept. We do not want to weaken that even more. I would also point out that in the area of health, if you take a look at the issue of three-dimensional imaging, that has been greatly enhanced by basic research done under contract with the National Science Foundation. Research into materials, into changing materials that you can use for joints, for heart valves, much of that has originated in research financed by the National Science Foundation. Eye surgery has been refined to a great extent by what we have learned under the auspices of the National Science Foundation.

"I applaud the gentleman from New York in wanting to increase funding for the COPS program. I think it is outrageous that we have seen these long-term reductions. But if we do cut back on the National Science Foundation, we not only threaten the health of America's citizens, we threaten the health of America's economic system as well. I think this is one of those examples where this agency does not have a lot of political support, but it is absolutely imperative that we step in and see to it that we make the advances that are possible with decent levels of funding.

"Mr. WEINER. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

"Mr. OBEY. I yield to the gentleman from New York.

"Mr. WEINER. Just for the purpose of clarification, under my amendment we are not reducing the budget of the NSF. It is going up. It is going up. I just want to make that clear. What we are doing is we are saying it should rise back to the level it was cut back to.

"Mr. OBEY. I understand. But the gentleman, among other things, is cutting into their education programs. This country is on the edge of being scientifically illiterate. We cannot afford to cut back science education in one classroom, in one university, in one corporation. We have got to have it all, and we need to have much more than we have right now.

"Mr. WEINER. If the gentleman will yield further, the gentleman from New York (Mr. Boehlert) made this characterization as well. The COPS program hiring component is zero. Not a little, not a medium amount, not cut back. Zero."

"Mr. OBEY. If I can take back my time, I understand that. That is why I had an amendment yesterday to add $400 million to local law enforcement. The majority rejected that. I had another amendment adding $200 million to local law enforcement. My position in favor of the COPS program is clear. My brother-in-law is a former district attorney who was shot. I have no less concern about law enforcement than the gentleman from New York. But the National Science Foundation and all of its ancillary programs, especially its education programs, are crucial to the future health of this country. It would be mindless to pass this amendment."

"Mr. WOLF. I want to thank the gentleman from Wisconsin for his comments. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Culberson).

"Mr. [John] CULBERSON [R-TX, subcommittee member]. Mr. Chairman, the gentleman from Wisconsin is correct. The country is on the brink of scientific illiteracy. I join the gentleman from Wisconsin, our ranking member, and our chairman in strongly opposing this amendment. I want to reiterate something Chairman Wolf said which is vitally important. The National Science Foundation is of strategic importance to the future prosperity of the United States. We have three appropriations bills that deal with the defense of this country; one obviously the defense bill, homeland security, and then this bill which invests in the future prosperity of the country by investing in fundamental research and development through the National Science Foundation. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has shown with future projections that the purchasing power of research and development investments are expected to decline over the next 5 years. The chairman has put together a superb bill that increases funding for the National Science Foundation, not the level we need to be because of our suballocation, but we are moving in the right direction. If we do not do so, other nations will pass us by. China is now graduating 300,000 engineers per year versus 71,000 in the United States. China's high tech output has shot up eightfold over the 1990s, while ours has only doubled. We need to reject this amendment and continue the growth in investment in research and development through the National Science Foundation."

"Mr. WOLF. Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Ehlers), who has been a leader on this issue.

"Mr. [Vernon] EHLERS (R-MI, House Science Committee member]. Mr. Chairman, first of all, I have to make a correction. The gentleman from New York keeps saying that he is not cutting NSF. Actually, the National Science Foundation appropriation under this bill is still less than fiscal year 2004 due to the large cut last year. Furthermore, the Research and Related Activities account, which we have been discussing with this amendment, will be cut $60 million below fiscal year 2004 levels by this amendment.

"We have not only started to eat our seed corn, I read an article last week that said the seed corn is almost gone. Because other countries are making this a high priority, they are doing much better than we are in research. Let me illustrate the importance of research activities. When I was a graduate student fifty years ago, a friend of mine, Charlie Townes, was working on development of a laser. Today I hold in my hand a laser which I purchased downstairs in the stationery shop for $15. That is how far we have come in 50 years. The laser industry, which rose from a simple grant to Dr. Townes from the National Science Foundation of a few million dollars, is today a multi-multibillion-dollar industry in this country. That is the kind of rate of return we get on our investment in research and our funding of the National Science Foundation. Reject this amendment. It goes in totally the wrong direction."

"The CHAIRMAN. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from New York (Mr. Weiner). "

The question was taken; and the Chairman announced that the noes appeared to have it.

"Mr. WEINER. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote." (See http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2005/roll251.xml )

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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