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AAAS Op-Ed: Roll Back the Sequester to Bolster U.S. Science and Innovation

Removing the across-the-board spending caps known as "sequestration" to achieve modest increases for federal science agencies is a "strategic imperative," George Washington University President Steven Knapp and AAAS CEO Rush D. Holt wrote this week in Roll Call.

Rush D. Holt | David Sharpe

Such increases are necessary for the nation to maintain its innovative edge, which it is in danger of losing, according to Knapp and Holt.  Under current law, the U.S. federal "discretionary" budget, which encompasses support for science, distinct from mandatory entitlement programs, remains at levels set four years ago by the Budget Control Act. Meanwhile, China's government announced in 2011 a plan to invest twice as much as the United States in life sciences R&D, in current dollars, and four times as much as a share of gross domestic product, over a five-year period, the op-ed notes.

Likewise, over the past decade, no new drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help the 5 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a number expected to grow dramatically in the coming years, at a huge cost to the U.S. economy as well as to American families. Medicare spending related to the treatment of the disease now stands at $150 billion, and it continues to climb.

Although it faces stiff opposition on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama's fiscal 2016 budget proposal would dial back spending reductions to provide a 7.2 percent increase over 2015 levels, and a $329 billion increase cumulatively through fiscal 2021, when the so-called sequestration caps expire. The resulting increases for agencies like the National Institutes of Health would be critical for addressing Alzheimer's disease and other pressing health challenges. They would also "set the stage for economy-boosting innovations," including advanced manufacturing, clean-energy technology, and climate-change research, Knapp and Holt wrote.