• August 29, 2015

House Republicans Set Deep Targets for Budget Cuts, Alarming Universities

Republicans leading the U.S. House of Representatives proposed on Thursday a 9-percent single-year cut in nondefense discretionary federal spending, making clear the huge challenge confronting President Obama and his pledge to largely spare scientific research from the overall need for deep budget reductions.

The House Appropriations Committee set the target in issuing a budget outline by which Congress hopes to use to finish work on spending bills for the 2011 fiscal year, which began last October.

The plan, which includes breakdowns by broad budget category, calls for a 16-percent cut from 2010 levels in spending for the budgetary division that includes the National Science Foundation and NASA, a 10-percent reduction for the Energy Department, and a 4-percent cut in the unit that includes the National Institutes of Health and the Education Department.

The proposed spending levels fall well below the amounts recommended last year by Mr. Obama, who has promised to protect research spending both this year and in the budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which he is due to propose later this month.

House Republicans, who gained a majority in the chamber in last November's elections, stopped short Thursday of specifying exact amounts for agencies such as the NIH and NSF. But university leaders immediately began viewing the outline with alarm, especially given that the 2011 fiscal year is already more than one-third complete. That means the full-year percentage cutbacks would be even larger when applied to the unspent portion of each agency's annual budget.

"These allocations pose a serious threat to science and higher education," said Barry Toiv, spokesman for the Association of American Universities, the main lobbying group for research institutions. "We're going to be working to convince the House to sustain funding in these areas, but if they don't, we'll be encouraging the Senate to take a different approach."

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Obama visited Pennsylvania State University at University Park, where he made clear his belief that scientific research should remain a priority even as the federal government tries to scale back its spending.

"Government has a responsibility to live within its means," Mr. Obama told a gathering of about 3,000 people on the campus. "But we also have a responsibility to invest in those areas that are going to have the biggest impact. And in this century, those areas are education and infrastructure and innovation."


1. tptrekker - February 04, 2011 at 08:03 am

The fundamentals of GOP fiscal policy: 1)defend against all challengers tax breaks for the wealthy, 2)protect the military share of the pie, 3)slash funding for those things that make this a decent, civilized country.

2. snapcase - February 04, 2011 at 08:43 am

The Republicans have long proved (since Reagan) that they are the enemies of an open, tolerant society and the institutional instruments that make such a society flourish. They are plurocratic fascists of the worst sort.

3. snapcase - February 04, 2011 at 08:44 am

Sorry, *plutocratic*

4. 22259152 - February 04, 2011 at 08:49 am


Spending money you do not have does not make this a civilized country it makes you broke. It is the people that make it civilized. If it was not for the military, you probably could not be disagreeing with the republicans attempt to rein in spending. The world is a dangerous place no matter how much you would like it to be civilized.

5. genekdw - February 04, 2011 at 08:59 am

But when our defense budget is larger than the next 15 in the world combined one has to question the efficiency and necessity for this level of spending!!!

6. physicsprof - February 04, 2011 at 09:56 am

"Defense budget" is a rather Orwellian term. "Offense budget" would be more like it. "Defense" is for the gullible, but ultimately it all boils down to special interests and profit-making. If we minded our own business and stopped policing the world we would be much better off financially, among many other benefits.

7. refugee63 - February 04, 2011 at 10:18 am

Cutting research and development is a threat to the long term economic interests of the United States. However, this is no time for either researchers or research institutions to deny the possibilities for cost savings through better management. We are in a national budgetary crisis. Hoping that these tough times might spur a re-evaluation of overall governmental spending priorities is refreshingly optimistic, and a goal worth supporting. However, in the short term, researchers and Universities would do well to explore possible cost saving moves in the areas of research. The vast majority of major Universities boast federal overhead rates exceeding 50%. These funds are indeed being used to compensate for other budget cuts, not just to support research. Researchers are making due with smaller budgets and in many cases less salary support from grants. To effectively counter the call for across the board cuts we need to demonstrate fiscal responsibility, the willingness to cut administrative costs, and highlight research efficiency. Refusing to critically examine what are in some cases bloated administrative charges only benefits anti-research and anti-science forces.

8. a_voice - February 04, 2011 at 11:03 am

The share of our hard-earned money we spend on defense is insane, and it serves one main purpose: Protect the financial interests of the wealthy around the globe. A "super power" that cannot afford education and health care for its citizens is a lousy one.

9. ragingsquirrel - February 04, 2011 at 12:04 pm

This is alarmist. The “Unit that includes the NIH” is Health and Human Services, which also covers the Administration for Children and Families, the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Indian Health Service, the Office of the Inspector General, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Administration on Aging. The Department of Education is a separate Cabinet-level Department with its own budget; NSF and NASA are also completely separate items in the budget.

If you actually follow the link, the proposal is a one-page Excel spreadsheet. There is a proposed 16% decrease in funding for “Financial Services and General Government” (which apparently includes NSF and NASA) and a 4% reduction in the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, combined.

To make it sound as if Republicans are targeting science/education specifically is misleading.

10. richardtaborgreene - February 04, 2011 at 12:49 pm

It makes SENSE overalll---how are you going to create witting tools of big money, sustain our Plutocracy, with highly educated confident people--the exact kind that colleges produce---it is well documented that colleges tend to make bigots less, well, how to say it, bigoted. The religious republican right, tools of big money, need masses of unthinking voters. Universities are a direct factory producing the opposite. Conclusion---eliminate universities entirely and turn major portions of the American public dumb enough to vote for the right. Smart politics. At the end, a century later, you have a small group of highly right rightists, worshipping god, in mud-baked villages perforated with guinea worms, malaria, aids, and chamber of commerce fund drives. A pretty picture indeed.

11. wilkenslibrary - February 04, 2011 at 03:05 pm

I believe it is Thomas Friedman who has said that we are as stupid as we want to be. I see it as a great failure in education that we have produced citizens who see no value in education and who go on to elect lawmakers with the same outlook.

12. tekton - February 04, 2011 at 05:09 pm

Oh those awful plutocrats, aka business owners. They always want to thwart the good of the people, don't they? They should just go away and let the government print all the money it needs for all those great programs and...oops - there's no money!

Nobody I know of is advocating a return to the robber baron days of unregulated capitalism, but any sensible discussion of the federal budget has to acknowledge the constant interplay, and tension, between the wealth creators (i.e., business) and the wealth regulators (i.e., government). Blanket demonization of either party serves no useful purpose. Strong businesses and good government are both vital.

The debate over spending isn't focused on whether government is the enemy, it's about the money. If we had the money, we wouldn't have to be thinking about cutting funding to programs. But we as a nation have been unsustainably living beyond our means. Reasonable people can disagree on spending priorities, and we're all free to be involved in the process, but everything should be on the table, including our own sacred cows. Perhaps the public would be a little more supportive of science funding if academics (like some that have posted here) were less arrogant and dismissive of the public's intelligence. Maybe the issue isn't black and white.

13. gsawpenny - February 04, 2011 at 08:39 pm

I must admit I am stunned by many of the comments here. Clearly none of you are in the sciences. Almost 80% of the federal budget that goes to the academy is for defense purposes. Honestly, did you really think that federal money was given to universities, well, for "pure scientific research for the sake of humanity?" How cute! DARPA is the reason many science departments have more than four employees. Defense dollars keep all you oh-so-special post-docs out of undergraduate classrooms.

But hey, I have an idea. We should remove DOD money from every college campus. Then we could have socially conscious PhD's in the unemployment line with the rest of the unwashed masses.

You guys are funny. Unaware, globally immature, worldly unaware- but funny.

14. wlgoffe - February 04, 2011 at 08:52 pm

@gsawpenny a cite on this would be of interest. DoD funding in higher ed is 4X NSF and NIH funding? Hardly the final word, but Wikipedia has DARPA's budget as half of the NSF, let alone NIH.

Plus, some of the DARPA projects have useful spinoffs, like this medium...

15. a_voice - February 04, 2011 at 09:35 pm

@gsawpenny: how much of the approx. $689 billion defense budget goes to scientific research?

16. a_voice - February 04, 2011 at 09:54 pm

@tekton: We the people contribute approx. $899 billion to the federal government. We have money all right. We're just putting it in the wrong buckets.

17. fizmath - February 05, 2011 at 11:34 pm

All a drop in the bucket. The USA is broke. Add in unfunded liabilities and you have a debt near 100 trillion dollars.

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

  • 1255 Twenty-Third St., N.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20037
subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.