The Post-Election Outlook for Science

Starting in January both the Senate and House will be under Republican control. Historically, this result was no surprise. Since WWII all presidents in their second term have faced a Senate of the opposite party. One of the biggest questions on my mind is what will a Republican controlled Senate mean for science policy? Sadly I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’ve tried to summarize some potentially good and bad news for the coming Congress. For even more information about this topic, I highly recommend Science Magazine’s After Election 2014 series.

Science Funding

Recently a few bills offering ways to stabilize and grow the NIH budget, including the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act and the American Cures Act, have been introduced in Congress. In a Republican Congress these bills have little chance of passing, but there is some hope a bipartisan bill sponsored by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) may have more luck. The Invest for Healthy Futures Act provides an incentive for lawmakers to fund 5 federal research agencies (NIH, CDC, FDA, BARDA, and AHRQ) at least at the previous year’s level plus biomedical inflation. The funds for this bill are offset by cuts elsewhere, which is potentially attractive to conservative lawmakers. Senator Hatch  is currently the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and is a likely choice for the Chairmanship, which could also help the bill’s prospects.

Regulatory Burden

There is some hope that Congress may act on streamlining the regulatory burden on grants administration and reporting. The House passed the bipartisan Research and Development Efficiency Act in July that aims to allow researchers to spend more time actually doing science and less time on administrative tasks. This bill is championed by Representative Bucshon (R-IN), the chair of the House’s Science Committee Research Panel. As with everything, the devil is in the details and it is unclear exactly what regulations will be altered if this bill passes the full Congress. For more information on this issue, I highly recommend this Science Magazine piece by David Malakoff.

Action on Climate Change

One of the more disturbing effects of the election for science is the change in leadership in the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. The current Chair is Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a strong supporter of environmental protections. The ranking Republican on the Committee is James Inhofe (R-OK), a climate change skeptic who has literally written a book arguing that position (The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future). The last time he chaired this committee, Inhofe frequently invited ‘experts‘ with dubious qualifications to argue against action on climate change. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that man-made climate change is occurring, the only controversy is how severe the effects will be and how much we need to curb emissions to prevent the most disastrous effects. Wasting time arguing over whether climate change is occurring will only hurt our country in the long run. To end the post on a slightly lighter note, I’ll leave you with coverage of this issue by the Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight.