Jewish World Review April 6, 2001 / 13 Nissan 5761
Newtie versus Dubya?
PRESIDENT BUSH is keeping his promise to help double the federal
government's medical research budget, but he's facing criticism
for low-balling other research vital to U.S. productivity.
Democrats, scientists, corporate groups -and former Speaker
Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) - have protested net cuts after inflation
in the budgets of the National Science Foundation, NASA and
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee last
month, Gingrich said it is important for our national security that
Congress increase Bush's science budget request.
Gingrich represented a blue-ribbon commission on national
security headed by former Sens. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) and
Gary Hart (D-Colo.), which concluded that, next to terrorist
attacks within our borders, flagging science investment and
science education are the greatest foreseeable threats to the
In an interview earlier, Gingrich told me that the budget for the
NSF, which supports non-medical university research and trains
scientists, "should be $11 billion," not the $4.5 billion that Bush
requested. The President's mere $56 million boost for NSF was
"a tragic mistake," he said.
Bush's budget calls for a 13 percent increase for the National
Institutes of Health, but only a 2.5 percent increase for other
civilian science, space and technology programs - a cut after
inflation is taken into account.
The Defense Science Board also has protested that defense
research other than missile defense is not receiving adequate
Gingrich and other critics argued that failure to support basic
scientific research will stifle innovation and productivity that
fuel economic growth.
Specific areas needing funds, they said, include development of
"post-silicon" computer chips, climate change and alternative
energy sources, such as fusion, earthquake detection and
Bush met with a group of high-tech executives last week and
extolled their past performance. "This administration has great
confidence in the future of the high-technology industry," he
said, despite recent drops in technology stocks.
"You've changed the way we work and communicate, and
you've changed the way we learn," he said. "You've done for
American economic leadership in the 21st century what heavy
industry did in the 20th century."
"You've done so much for your country, it's time for your
country to do something for you," he added. In other words, cut
their income taxes and extend the tax credit for corporate
However, Bush's critics, particularly Democrats, say his tax cuts
are actually crowding out investments in research and
endangering the long-term growth of the economy.
Democrats on the House Budget Committee proposed scientific
spending 50 percent higher than what House Republicans
approved, following Bush's request.
In an interview, Bush budget director Mitch Daniels said, "We did
what we felt we could afford" in science funding.
Daniels added that "we'll listen" if Congress wants to find more
money for science by cutting other programs to stay within
He acknowledged that the proposed increase for NSF is "very
small," but said the agency had received 7 percent more funds
last year. Moreover, he noted that some energy research
amounts to subsidies for corporations, which should be investing
The Bush budget contains a $2.8 billion increase for the National
Institutes of Health. Daniels said Bush plans a $4.1 billion
increase next year to complete the task of doubling NIH's
budget over five years.
After that, he said, it may be "appropriate" to shift funds to
other scientific research. But critics, including the former head
of NIH, Nobel Prize winner Harold Varmus, argue that medical
research is being held back by underfunding in other areas, such
as imaging and computing.
For instance, Gingrich said it's theoretically possible for surgeons
to use images and computers to perform "virtual surgery" on
patients as practice for actual operations, thereby limiting
The critics' strongest case, however, is economic. A group of
industry executives and scientific organizations headed by the
National Association of Manufacturers wrote Bush in February
that "If we cut federal investment in science today, it will be at
the cost of lower productivity increases tomorrow."
Groups protesting Bush's budget often quote Alan Bromley, his
father's White House science adviser, who declared in a New
York Times op-ed piece in early March that "The proposed cuts
in scientific research are a self-defeating policy" for an
administration that wants to encourage growth and budget
"No science, no surplus. It's that simple," Bromley
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.
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