President’s Deficit Commission Co-Chairs Say R&D Investments Should Be Protected

The two co-Chairs of the President’s “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” — a bi-partisan committee charged by the President with coming up with solutions to the “fiscal challenges” the nation faces over the medium and long term — set off quite a kerfuffle today by releasing a set of draft recommendations that call for up to $200 billion in cuts to federal spending by 2015 (bringing spending down to 22 percent of GDP), reforms to the tax system and federal budget process, and bringing solvency to the Social Security system.

However, the two co-Chairs — former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) and former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles — also emphasized that any plan also had to protect “key investments” in infrastructure, education and R&D. One recommendation of the chairs is to establish a “cut-and-invest committee” to do two things:

  • “Cut red tape and inefficient spending that puts a drag on the economy and job creation.”
  • “Invest in education, infrastructure, and high-value R&D.”

(You can see a copy of the co-Chairs draft slides here and an “illustrative list” of cuts here.)

Today’s release is being treated as a “Chairman’s Mark” that has not yet been approved by the full 18-member committee. The final report may not receive the full support of the committee, but if it receives the support of at least 14 members, Democratic and Republican House and Senate leaders have promised to give the plan the commission recommends an up-or-down vote. And having such a prominent effort highlight the importance of continued support for R&D, even in a brutal fiscal environment, would be a big help to our arguments.

But, that noted, there are already a lot of people very unhappy with the recommendations. The unions are already thanking the co-Chairs for telling the American worker to “drop dead,” because of the reforms proposed to social security. House Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Minority Whip Durbin have already called the proposed discretionary cuts “unacceptable.” And, just looking through the illustrative list, there are a lot of sacred cows being gored.

So, it’s possible much of this is dead on arrival. But, even so, it will likely provide good kindling for moderates and conservatives looking to make hard choices for deficit reduction. Spending will get cut next Congress. It’s nice for supporters of science funding to have the fiscal commission on its side, but when the unions and other large interest groups start yelling about their programs getting cut, the science community needs to be equally vocal in making the case for protecting R&D.

The full report will come out in December, and much like the Gathering Storm report set playing field for R&D funding debate, this will probably set the playing field for the budget debate, so we’ll have all the details.

President’s Deficit Commission Co-Chairs Say R&D Investments Should Be Protected