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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  January 2005

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE January 2005

Subject:

   Billions for Pork as Science Is Slashed

From:

Wren Osborn <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 9 Jan 2005 13:55:22 -0800

Content-Type:

multipart/alternative

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (115 lines) , text/enriched (139 lines)

http://www.truthout.org/docs_05/010505L.shtml

Original URL LA Times   
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe- 
chait31dec31,1,7598975.column

Billions for Pork as Science Is Slashed
By Jonathan Chait
The Los Angeles Times

Friday 31 December 2004

Damn the future, the GOP wants to buy votes today.

Does cutting taxes force Congress to spend less money? So far under  
President Bush, the answer has been a resounding no. Now there's some  
evidence that Congress actually may be tightening the purse strings.  
Unfortunately, what it has done so far doesn't exactly prove the  
conservative case.

The new evidence is that Congress voted last month to cut the  
budget for the National Science Foundation, or NSF, which supports  
basic scientific research. This means that next year the NSF will have  
about 1,000 fewer research grants. This comes at a time when scientific  
experts worry that the United States is losing its worldwide primacy in  
science and technology.

Now, some of you righties may be saying to yourselves, "Great! We  
scaled back another big government program." But, remember, Republicans  
over at least the last decade have flaunted their support of science  
and technology. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used to go on about  
dinosaur research and giving poor people laptop computers. Bush grandly  
promised a new mission to land humans on Mars in his last State of the  
Union address.

And the GOP commitment to science, at least until recently, very  
much included the NSF. Two years ago, the Republican Congress voted to  
double the foundation's budget by 2007. At the time, Fred Barnes of the  
Weekly Standard wrote that the White House considered the NSF to be one  
of the few "programs that work." Its grants go out on a competitive  
basis.

Mitch Daniels, then Bush's budget director, told Barnes that the  
NSF "has supported eight of the 12 most recent Nobel Prize awards  
earned by Americans at some point in their careers."

Still, you say, don't we face a huge deficit now? Indeed we do, but  
cutting support for scientific research is an incredibly mindless way  
to solve that problem. Deficits are bad because they represent a form  
of borrowing against the future. Every dollar we spend beyond our means  
today is one less dollar that we'll have to spend someday down the  
road. But scientific research is an investment in future prosperity.  
Cutting the NSF budget is like a family in debt pulling its children  
out of college but keeping its country club membership.

And this turns out to be utterly typical of the way conservatives  
practice fiscal restraint. Their strategy of "starving the beast" -  
trimming down government by depriving it of revenue - is not supposed  
to chop down spending per se; it's supposed to get rid of waste. As it  
happens, though, waste has flourished while Washington has sacrificed  
lots of necessary spending.

The former category includes big programs such as the $180 billion  
in agricultural subsidies Bush approved in 2001, or last year's  
Medicare bill featuring tens of billions in subsidies for healthcare  
industries. It also includes garden variety pork, such as money for the  
Punxsutawney (Pa.) Weather Museum or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in  
Cleveland. (Both projects were deemed vital in the same budget that  
trims the NSF.)

The NSF is not the only worthwhile project that has gotten stiffed.  
It's not even the only project that conservatives consider worthwhile  
that has gotten stiffed.

Crucial aspects of homeland security - such as inspecting incoming  
ships for nuclear material and hiring enough immigration agents to  
track down illegal immigrants from the Middle East - are getting far  
less than needed to ensure that Americans are protected from terrorism.  
Even the denizens of the conservative Heritage Foundation have  
complained about the Bush administration's stinginess on homeland  
security.

Why are bad programs driving out the good? Because budget pressure,  
the pressure of the deficit by itself, does not guarantee that Congress  
will make good choices. The Republicans' preferred plan, which we've  
seen through Bush's first four years, is to say yes to everybody: tax  
cuts and spending programs can buy a lot of votes. If they must cut  
back, they'll keep the programs that help Republicans win election,  
including the home-state pork, and cut out virtuous programs that don't  
have the same political muscle. Like the NSF.

Of course, this isn't an unalterable law of nature. If the  
governing party has some sense of responsibility, it will fund programs  
on the basis of the national interest rather than on the basis of which  
ones have the most powerful lobby.

That's what President Reagan's budget director, David Stockman,  
said he was doing when he promised to go after "weak claims, not weak  
clients." By that he meant he would try to cut out programs with a  
shaky rationale, not those that merely lacked powerful backers in  
Washington. The GOP's operating principle today is just the other way  
around.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is  
distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest  
in receiving the included information for research and educational  
purposes. t r u t h o u t has no affiliation whatsoever with the  
originator of this article nor is t r u t h o u t endorsed or sponsored  
by the originator.)
	
 : t r u t h o u t 2005


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