"The time has come to spend money on basic research, just as we have on medical research"- Senator Pete Domenici
During last week's Senate consideration of the budget resolution, a largely non-binding measure establishing spending levels for various government functions, Senator Pete V. Domenici (R-New Mexico), offered the following remarks on federal science funding:
"Mr. President [of the Senate], I rise to speak for 2 minutes on the fiscal year 2005 budget resolution currently pending before the Senate. In particular, I want to focus for just a little bit on the budgets for scientific research.
"The funding for the National Institutes of Health should be my starting point. In the omnibus bill of 2003, thanks in large part to the leadership of President Bush, we met our commitment; that is, in 2003, we met our commitment to double the funding for NIH .
"Senator [Don] Nickles [R-Oklahoma] remembers that clearly, that a couple of Senators started and everybody followed, and a resolution was adopted that said - it was incredible to many of us, but we did it - let's double the NIH . President Bush helped us, and we did that.
"Allow me to explain these numbers. In 1998, we spent $13.7 billion on the National Institutes of Health for cancer, for all of these various diseases, heart conditions, and mental illness. When the commitment was fulfilled, we spent $27.1 billion for medical research.
"We need not stop there, however. Last year, we further increased it to $27.9 billion. This means we have spent $145.9 billion in the last 7 years on the National Institutes of Health -- a 109-percent increase. This year we are planning on further increasing the budget of NIH to $28.7 billion."
After criticizing lobbying efforts seeking higher funding for NIH, saying "Enough is enough," Domenici continued:
"The NIH is doing amazing work in developing techniques to detect, diagnose, and treat many of the most devastating diseases humans face, such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. I hope that we can continue to fund this important agency at these record levels.
"I am concerned, though, that we have collectively failed to be as aggressive when it comes to funding basic scientific research in other agencies.
"Basic research is defined as systematic study directed toward greater knowledge or understanding of the fundamental aspects of phenomena and of observable facts without specific applications towards processes or products in mind.
"The technologies transitioned from basic research are the foundation of applied programs and eventually fielded systems.
"Put another way, basic research is the engine that makes our national defense, homeland security, and economic superiority possible.
"However, basic scientific research is not funded in a single place as with medical research at NIH .
"The correlative type research to NIH is something we call in America basic research--physics, computer science, chemistry, engineering, et cetera. We have no central focus point for that in America. I am not sure we should or should not. It is just a fact.
"In 2004, the sum total of expenditures for that was $11 billion, and that included the Veterans' Administration - we assume some of what they do is science - Interior, EPA, NASA, DOE. This is compared to $8.8 billion for these programs in 1998.
"In the same period of time these programs have increased 35 percent, while NIH increased by over 100 percent. I do not think America can continue to dominate the world, invent the products, maintain our standard of living with that kind of disparity for too much longer. The time has come to spend money on basic research, just as we have on medical research.
"It is important to note much of our scientific research is done at our universities. They have plenty of research in medical science and medical science problems. But I guarantee you, Mr. President and fellow Senators, they are very short on research for the basic sciences.
"The Presiding Officer comes from a State that has great wealth. They devote great quantities of that wealth to their schools, and then say: Spend it on science. Go look at the University of Texas and a few other of your universities and see where you put your money. You put it there. But America does not put it there across the board.
"I put this statement in comparing the two only because to keep them at such a disparate level of a 100-percent increase in 10 years in one and 30-some percent in the other is not going to keep America great.
"I am hopeful when we finish with this resolution, we will get on to thinking a little bit about where we are going the next decade, and maybe we should start a resolution saying basic science ought to be increased over the next decade in a substantial way, maybe even as we did with the National Institutes of Health. I only wish I could see the way clear to find the money. I would be here offering that resolution right now.
"Our future is just as certainly tied to our basic science moving up into a parity position with wellness research. Eventually wellness research will come up against insolvable problems. At least the technology of application won't work because we won't have the physics solved, the physical science.
"With that, I thank the Chair for giving me a few moments and hope every now and then somebody in a position to do something about this can join together and see if we can't get this done."