An update on sequestration

Sequestration, or across-the-board budget cuts, is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 3 and threatens to cut $2.5 billion from the National Institutes of Health budget and more than $570 million from the National Science Foundation budget. NIH Director Francis Collins said the agency may have to eliminate up to 2,300 grants to make up the budget shortfall.

For savvy readers of the Blotter, the threat of sequestration and the effects it could have on health research are well known. Now media outlets are beginning to disseminate just how bad sequestration might be for science jobs and local economies. Massachusetts receives roughly 10 percent of all NIH grants and stands to lose $200 million to $300 million if sequestration goes into effect. San Diego may lose 4,500 jobs as a result of sequestration, a staggering 10 percent of the entire biomedical workforce in the San Diego area.

Both houses of Congress are in recess until after the Nov. 6 election so no legislation will be passed to prevent sequestration until the end of the year. However, there is some movement in both chambers. House Republicans are touting a bill that they passed that solves sequestration. However, this is more about rearranging the deck chairs rather than achieving an actual solution. The House bill exempts all of defense spending from budget cuts and places all of the cuts on the nondefense side of the equation. Under this scenario, it is estimated that the budgets of NIH, NSF and all other nondefense agencies would be cut by more than 20 percent. This bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, and President Obama has already stated that he will veto any bill that takes an unbalanced approach to sequestration.

On the other side, things look a little brighter. Two bipartisan groups of senators, named the Gang of 8 and the Gang of 6, have begun talks to come to an accord that would avert the impending fiscal cliff and stave off sequestration. Whatever plans these groups may come up with, they will face considerable opposition. First, a group of conservative senators is rumored to be working on plans to flaunt Senate rules that would slow down or prevent any compromise plan from coming up for a vote. Second, any plan proposed in the Senate would have to then be voted on by the House. House Republicans have repeatedly saidthat they will not consider any legislation that contains tax increases.

What does all of this mean? With Congress in recess until after the election, anything said by either party at this time is posturing for the eventual debate that will come during the lame-duck session. Nevertheless, we must continue to spread the word about the impact of sequestration on the research community and what it means for our local economies and our national health. If you want to get involved, peruse ASBMB’s Advocacy Toolkit, and then contact Ben Corb to find out what you can do.

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