FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Academic and Business Associations Express Concern About Science Funding and Call for Entitlement Reform

Richard M. Jones
Number 44 - April 1, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

Adjust text size enlarge text shrink text    |    Print this pagePrint this page    |     Bookmark and Share     |    rss feed for FYI

At recent hearings on two FY 2012 budget requests for science agencies, appropriations subcommittee chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) has called for changes in the nation’s entitlement programs.  Wolf’s recommendation has been endorsed by several prominent academic and business organizations who warn that concentrating future cuts exclusively in federal domestic discretionary funding “threatens to undermine the human capital and the physical, technological and scientific infrastructure upon which our future economy, health, and security depend.”  “Any serious and sincere deficit reduction plan must include entitlement reform,” they state.

Wolf is the chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee.  At a March 10 hearing on the National Science Foundation request, he spoke of his interest in increasing funding for physics, chemistry, biology and math, and science generally, and also for programs benefitting the poor.  While criticizing funding reductions for programs such as nutrition support, Wolf warned “until we deal with the issue of entitlements, Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, this will continue.”  Wolf made a similar point at a March 3 NASA hearing, stating “until the president steps forward and deals with the fundamental important issues that we're addressing in the entitlements, whatever concerns will be expressed by you or anyone in the audience or anyone in the country about these budget cuts, some will lament them, but until you deal with the entitlements, you can't really solve this issue.  We're fundamentally trying to balance the budget on. . . the 15 to 17, maybe even less than 15 percent of the pie.”

A joint statement issued yesterday by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, the National Academy of Engineering, the Business Roundtable, and the Council on Competitiveness endorses the comments made by Chairman Wolf.  Coming about a week before funding for the federal government expires, and with an important upcoming vote on raising the national debt ceiling, the statement calls for entitlement reform to be part of a “serious and sincere deficit reduction plan.”  The statement continues: 

“An effective deficit reduction plan cannot focus entirely on decreasing discretionary expenditures; it must also include tax reform, spending prioritization and actions to strengthen economic growth. Economic growth and job creation require federal investment to prepare our children with world-class educations and to support the scientific and technology research and innovation infrastructure that enable the private sector to create jobs and compete in the global economy.”

The full text follows:

“STATEMENT ON THE FEDERAL DEFICIT

“As representatives of the nation’s business, university, science and engineering communities, we believe the future of our nation depends on our willingness to take immediate actions to rein in the federal deficit and drive economic growth.

“Americans know the exploding federal debt is unsustainable. The Congressional Budget Office projects a 90 percent debt-to-GDP ratio within 10 years, a dangerous prospect that would saddle the country with crippling interest payments on the debt. If we do not act soon, the country at some point will be forced to make truly draconian cuts in government expenditures and impose huge tax increases, while simultaneously experiencing prolonged slow or zero growth. This will weaken our nation and reduce the standard of living of current and future generations.

“We can still choose our path, however. Past generations of Americans have risen to great challenges, and so can we.

“Current discussions about deficit reduction by the Administration and Congress have largely concentrated on domestic discretionary expenditures, which are only about one sixth of the budget. If defense and security-related expenditures were included, the debate would still be focused on only about one-third of the budget. We would need to eliminate nearly all of this spending to balance the FY2012 budget. Moreover, concentrating exclusively on reducing discretionary expenditures threatens to undermine the human capital and the physical, technological and scientific infrastructure upon which our future economy, health, and security depend.

“Largely missing in the budget discussions to-date are entitlement programs, particularly the major ones: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These three programs alone account for about 40 percent of the budget and their expenditures will grow dramatically in the decade ahead: Social Security by an estimated 71 percent, Medicare by 75 percent, and Medicaid by 125 percent. Any serious and sincere deficit reduction plan must include entitlement reform.

“An effective deficit reduction plan cannot focus entirely on decreasing discretionary expenditures; it must also include tax reform, spending prioritization and actions to strengthen economic growth. Economic growth and job creation require federal investment to prepare our children with world-class educations and to support the scientific and technology research and innovation infrastructure that enable the private sector to create jobs and compete in the global economy.

“Americans must set priorities and share in the sacrifice required to put our fiscal house in order. This is consistent with the model discussed in the bipartisan majority report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – the Bowles-Simpson commission. We
applaud those bipartisan efforts now underway among some Senators to put a broad-based deficit reduction plan on the table, and we welcome the recent letter signed by 64 Senators calling for a ‘broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit reduction package.’

“We urge the President and the Congress to emphasize bipartisan compromise rather than contention. We call upon them to join together with Congress in making the tough choices on all elements of the federal budget in order to reduce deficits, bring the national debt under control and empower economic growth and job production.”

Norman R. Augustine
Chairman and CEO (retired)
Lockheed Martin Corporation

Robert M. Berdahl
President
Association of American Universities

John Engler
President
Business Roundtable

M. Peter McPherson
President
Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

Charles M. Vest
President
National Academy of Engineering

Deborah L. Wince-Smith
President & CEO
Council on Competitiveness

Note that selections are from transcripts prepared by and used with the permission of CQ Roll Call.

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