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AAAS, Partners Urge “Balanced” Fiscal Cliff Compromise that Avoids Harm to U.S. Research

AAAS and 126 partner organizations representing U.S. science, engineering, higher education and businesses today urged the White House and congressional leaders to strike a balanced compromise on the looming “fiscal cliff” that avoids harming critical research efforts.

If automatic, across-the-board “sequestration” cuts go into effect starting 2 January, their letter says, the U.S. National Institutes of Health would lose $11.3 billion over five years for research on some of the nation’s most critical medical challenges including cancer, obesity, aging, and emerging diseases. Non-defense R&D funding has already declined by 5% in the past two years, and sequestration cuts “significantly threaten” U.S. leadership in areas ranging from agriculture and national security to energy, it adds.

“Public research funding has helped plant the seeds that have spawned the Global Positioning System, the laser, Google, and countless other beneficial technologies in addition to medical advances that have helped save the lives of millions of heart disease, cancer and diabetes patients among others,” the groups wrote.

“What is needed is a balanced approach to deficit reduction that does not simply take an axe to discretionary federal programs without also considering the contributions of tax revenue solutions and entitlement reform in addressing the federal deficit….Our message is that a balanced plan must be one of shared contributions to a sound fiscal future, including strong support for our nation’s science and technology enterprise.”

Generally, there are two elements to the fiscal cliff: A series of expiring tax cuts that would raise taxes for most every American household and business, and the automatic budget cuts resulting from sequestration. The threat of sequestration results from a 2011 compromise among lawmakers that averted a budget crisis by allowing an increase in the federal government’s debt ceiling. Under the deal, if lawmakers can’t reduce the deficit on their own, automatic sequestration cuts kick in.

Without an agreement, sequestration could slash total U.S. R&D investment by 8.4%—some $58 billion—over five years, forcing laboratory closures and layoffs and jeopardizing current and future research across the spectrum of research fields.

AAAS has been prominent in the effort to inform U.S. lawmakers and the public about the potentially devastating impacts of sequestration. The R&D Budget and Policy Program has provided detailed budget analysis. The AAAS Office of Government Relations has established a Web site to provide background on the potential budget cuts. And AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of Science, has detailed the importance of federal R&D in publications ranging from the Washington Post and the Sacramento Bee to Germany’s weekly Die Zeit.


Read the letter sent by AAAS and 126 partner organizations to the White House and Congressional leaders.

View resources collected by the AAAS Office of Government on the possible budget sequestration.