Scientific investigators have a reputation on Capitol Hill as being reluctant to enter the fray of grassroots advocacy. But judging from a meeting I attended with key Congressional staff and advocacy representatives from a diverse group of research interests this week, it would be in the best interests of researchers to change that perception on Capitol Hill.
I’m sure you have all read about the intent of the new Congress to tackle deficit reduction by cutting government spending. If you’re thinking that it can’t get any worse than the virtual flat funding that occurred for most of the past decade, you need to think again. The message from leading Congressional staffers was loud and clear — Republicans are now putting pencil to paper and seriously discussing several proposals on the table. The most modest of budget cuts would roll federal spending back to FY 2008 levels. That would mean an approximate cut of 4.3 percent for NIH. Several other proposals would either cut $100 billion from the overall federal budget in FY 2012 or would return federal spending to FY 2006 levels. We’re talking potential double digit level cuts to NIH of 10 percent or more.
These proposals are not some hypothetical scenario that may pop up in discussions in the distant future. The House Republican leadership is poised to act on deep budget cutting measures in mid-February. As the Congressional staff leaders told us this week, if the scientific community has any hope of averting the deepest of cuts, we must get our message out to legislators, especially the newly elected ones, who need to understand the practical effect on jobs and the economy if these deep cuts go into effect.
Hundreds of AGA members in private practice have heeded AGA’s call to contact their legislators when they have faced reductions in their Medicare fees of more than 20 percent due to the ongoing troubles with the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula. These AGA members have made a meaningful impact in Congress as lawmakers have voted repeatedly to avert these steep Medicare fee reductions. We haven’t achieved the long-term goal of a permanent remedy to the SGR, but I will bet you that there is not a Congressional office on Capitol Hill that doesn’t know about the problems with the SGR formula. They have been educated by practicing GIs and their other colleagues in medicine. I don’t think the same can be said about the practical effects of deep cuts to the research budget.
It’s time for the research community to take up their own “SGR campaign.” If we don’t take the time to effectively educate lawmakers on the real impact of deep reductions to the nation’s biomedical research investment, and the negative impact it will have on the economy and jobs, it may take decades to rebuild the commitment to improving the nation’s research enterprise.
AGA is ready to help, if you’d like to become involved. Read more about AGA’s Congressional Advocates Program on the AGA Washington Insider and contact Lauren DePutter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 240-482-3221 to join.