Kerry, Congress Should Fight Bush Science Cuts
By Mort Kondracke
Kerry (D-Mass.) is blaming President Bush too much for "sending
American jobs overseas," but nowhere near enough for risking U.S.
technological leadership by underfunding basic scientific research.
100,000 of the 1.8 million jobs lost during the Bush presidency
went overseas, but experts say that millions of jobs - in fact,
America's place in the world - could be lost if other countries
gain dominance in new technologies. Not only should Kerry be raising
more hell about this, but Congress, instead of slathering pork
into the pending highway bill, ought to spend a few billion dollars
to increase Bush's budgets for the National Science Foundation,
science programs at the Departments of Energy and Defense, the
National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Standards
World War II, the United States has led the world in science,
developing computers, semiconductors, the Internet, satellites,
lasers, lightweight new materials, robotics, fiber optics, medicines,
imaging systems like MRIs and instant global communication.
all originated through federally funded research, kept America
the richest nation on earth. Academic studies show that between
half and 80 percent of US productivity and economic growth is
linked to technological innovation.
experts, including some Republicans, warn that the United States
is in danger of losing its edge - with profound consequences for
the economy and national security - because of underinvestment
in basic research. Underfunding - or actual cuts - could cost
American leadership in major new technologies, including hydrogen
and fusion research for energy, new semiconductors, computer simulation
of complex systems like the environment, stem cells as a disease
cure, exploitation of discoveries from the human genome project
and nanotechnology, the development of atom-sized systems. The
Bush administration claims that it has made "a record federal
investment in research and development," projecting outlays increasing
44 percent during Bush's first term.
scientific groups like the American Physical Society and the Association
of American Universities dispute the Bush case, asserting that
his spending is heavily skewed toward short-term defense and homeland
security "development" and skimps on long-term basic research
in physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering.
the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the leading federal
sponsor of physical science research, is scheduled for a 2 percent
cut in Bush's new budget.
Science Foundation is slated for a 3 percent increase, but that's
far short of the 15 percent authorized by Congress in 2002. Defense
"research and development" is up by 7 percent, but basic and applied
research - as opposed to weapons development - is down by 11 percent
in Bush's budget.
who's protesting is former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who told
me that "it's a grave risk for the country's future not to be
investing heavily in basic research."
five parallel revolutions under way in science," he said, listing
information technology, communications, nanoscience, quantum mechanics
and biology. "These five will change our world," he said.
of scientific knowledge we gain in the next 25 years will equal
or exceed that of the whole 20th century. For the United States
not to be in the forefront of that is to risk our national security
and our economy. "We're not going to be able to compete with China
and India in the next 25 years if we graduate more lawyers than
we do scientists," he added. "We're engaged in a huge misallocation
of priorities to spend as much as we do overall and not spend
more for science."
Republican, former Lockheed-Martin President Norman Augustine,
said in an interview that "America's ability to keep its standard
of living and create jobs has to be based on creating knowledge,
and our ability to do that is in considerable trouble."
He said that
"more than half of all our graduate students and PhD's in the
hard sciences nowadays are foreign students. They used to stay
here and become Americans. Now, if they can get here in the first
place because of visa restrictions, a lot of them are going to
go back home because the future is brighter there."
making Washington visits on behalf of the American Physical Society,
said that federal investment in basic research - except for biomedical
research - has been "flat" for more than 20 years as a percentage
of gross domestic product, and the Bush administration isn't improving
recovery we're in may be the leading edge of the future," he said.
"Our failure to invest in new seed corn may be coming back to
haunt us." So what's to be done? For one thing, there's a golden
political opportunity here for Kerry to pounce on Bush's sad record
and be the "science candidate" in 2004. To some extent, he's done
so, promising in an October 2003 speech at Dartmouth College in
New Hampshire to increase NIH and NSF funding, undo Bush's limits
on stem-cell research and stop alleged political interference
in scientific studies of the environment and energy.
has issued a high-technology position paper largely built around
extending broadband computer access to all homes, businesses and
health facilities, and he has promised to make the R&D tax credit
for corporations permanent.
could do more - specifically by mentioning Bush's research record
as part of every speech and by building a full research platform
of his own. Meantime, Congress needs to raise Bush's budget recommendations.
The cost for adequately funding space research, the NSF, defense
and energy research would be about $4 billion - a pittance compared
with what Congress is prepared to shell out in highway pork.
told me, "the problem is that science isn't as well organized
as the industries of the past are to lobby for money. Those industries
get the government to prop up the past, but science is inventing
the future." Congress ought to listen to its old leader. So should