Funding cuts: Scientific research to feel the pinch of new US bill

Reduction in expenditure was crucial to gaining Republican support to raise the debt ceiling.
Ameya Paleja
petri dish over a 100 dollar bill
Scientific research to fill the pinch of the debt ceiling deal

Bill Oxford/iStock  

Scientific research in the U.S. could see a massive fund crunch in the coming years after the House of Representatives passes a bill to increase the debt ceiling and stop the country from defaulting on its debt. The bill still needs to be passed by the Senate before it can be signed into law, the BBC reported.

The recent turn of events is reminiscent of 2011 when President Barack Obama agreed to trim federal spending for nearly a decade in return for Republican support for raising the debt ceiling. Joe Biden, who served as the Vice President during Obama's back-to-back terms, is no stranger to such arrangements between political parties. The impact, however, will be felt by the pace of scientific research in the country.

Research funding to shrink

The cut in federal spending in 2011 saw the U.S. spend an estimated $240 billion less on scientific research over the next nine years, a Nature report said. At current budget levels, this is equivalent to the amount of money the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends in five years.

The recent bill paves the way for an even greater reduction in discretionary spending, estimated to be around $3.5 trillion over the coming decade. If Congress were to allocate it evenly across its agencies and programs, it would result in a reduction of $442 billion in scientific investments over the next decade.

Funding cuts: Scientific research to feel the pinch of new US bill
It is unlikely that cuts will be applied evenly

Limiting discretionary spending to one percent growth in 2025 effectively means that there will be a budget cut since the inflation will be much higher.

With the Republicans asking for defense spending to be excluded from these cuts, the pinch felt by the NIH and National Science Foundation (NSF) could be much greater. The move also comes at a time when the NSF has already received fewer funds than allocated. In 2023, the NSF received $9.87 billion in funds, against $11.9 billion appropriated by the CHIPS and Science Act, which was only passed last year.

The Commerce Department's $10 billion investment effort to create 20 technology and innovation hubs has only received five percent of the funding so far, The New York Times said in its report.

It is also likely that NASA missions that need budget increases in the near future will also be affected. A flat budget could result in delays to certain missions.

With China outpacing the U.S. in many fields of scientific research, a freeze in research funding could see the U.S. fall behind in the coming decade. Is it something that the U.S. can really afford? This is the question that should be on our minds now.

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