Hostility to science is spreading

The results of the September 24 German elections are in, and Angela Merkel should serve a fourth term as German chancellor. The issues that drove the debate in the German election were very similar to the issues debated during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, including immigration, climate change, and nationalism. The outcomes of the elections could have similar, significant effects on science policy in the two countries.

Like the Republicans and Democrats in the United States, the leading German political parties strongly support the funding of research. There is, however, serious disagreement over the regulation of that research. Merkel will need to form a governing coalition of four political parties, and those four parties have drastically different views on the need for the regulation of cutting-edge biomedical research, including gene editing and CRISPR. One, the Green Party, supports strong regulation of technologies like CRISPR. The other three governing partners would be inclined to advocate more relaxed regulations.

Even after navigating disagreements on science policy within her coalition, Merkel can expect raucous debate in the German Budestag, thanks in part to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Even though it won’t be a member of any ruling coalition, the AfD is expected to have an impact on the policy debate on a number of issues, including science. In the past, party leaders have expressed doubt about climate science and genetic engineering.

The challenges facing Germany’s Merkel are very similar to those facing U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. What is unclear is if the outcomes will be the same in Germany as in the United States.


Congressional budget resolution may foretell large cuts for science

One part of the Trump Administration’s 2017 legislative agenda is revamping the U.S. tax system, including introducing major tax cuts. In an effort to get the tax cuts into law, leadership in the U.S. Congress has introduced a budget plan that would make massive cuts in large portions of federal spending and also allow for significant tax cuts.

Congressional budget resolutions, which serve as a framework for the formation of each fiscal year’s appropriations bills, are usually passed at the start of the budget process, soon after the State of the Union address. For FY18, the resolution has been introduced at the end of the process, after most of the appropriations bills have already been written. Instead of serving as a blueprint for the formation of the budget, this year it is serving as a political document and a vehicle to implement tax cuts and significant cuts to federal programs, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The key portions of the FY18 budget resolution are $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and $5.8 trillion in cuts to the federal budget over a 10-year period. In particular, the resolution allows for cuts as high as $800 billion to the “non-defense discretionary” (NDD) portion of the federal budget, which includes federal programs other than defense and mandatory programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The NDD portion of the budget funds a wide array of federal public service and investment programs, including science.

Because budget resolutions only set general spending levels, no specific budgets for the U.S. National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation are included in the resolution. However, the size of the cuts in the general areas covered by the resolution make it almost impossible for either agency to escape cuts.

It is important to note that these cuts will be made in addition to the spending reductions instituted as part of sequestration, which began in 2012. The severity of the sequestration cuts to both the domestic and the defense portions of the budget has forced budget deals every year since 2012 that have postponed the most painful effects of sequestration. Under the FY18 budget resolution, sequestration would be implemented for the first time in 2018.

Because the resolution is being passed at the end of the FY18 budget process, its budget cuts for 2018 are of little consequence. However, the cuts outlined in the resolution beginning in FY19 could be implemented. But in reality, the whole purpose of the resolution may end up being nothing more than to implement huge tax cuts and preserve the option for Republicans in Congress to try yet again to repeal the ACA.

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Kevin M. Wilson

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: kwilson@ascb.org