Other Voices on the Budget
Feb28

Other Voices on the Budget

I have little doubt that my editorial in this week’s issue will raise a ruckus among some readers. Once again, the refrain will go, the ultra-liberal Baum has come out in favor of big government and high taxes. Turns out, I’m not alone. The March 4 issue of Science has an editorial entitled “Research Vital to Economic Growth” by Raymond L. Orbach, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. Orbach served as Under Secretary for Science at the Department of Energy in the administration of President George W. Bush. The editorial is already posted at www.sciencemag.org and is available to anyone willing to register. Orbach writes, “It was with a mixture of astonishment and dismay that I watched as the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 1, a bill to fund the federal government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year. Left intact, the massive cuts in research contained in the bill passed on 19 February would effectively end America’s legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community, putting the United States at a distinct disadvantage when competing with other nations in the global marketplace.” Orbach goes on to state that funding for scientific research should not be a partisan issue (good luck on that in today’s political climate) and that, “The spending cuts in the bill would have a devastating effect on an array of critical scientific research.” He concludes that “the Senate must restore funding for science in the FY 2011 budget. Failure to do so would relegate the United States to second-class status in the scientific community and threaten economic growth and prosperity for future generations of Americans.” The February 25 issue of Science has an excellent news story entitled “House Cuts to DOE National Labs Would Also Hamstring Industry.” The story reports that the cuts in the Republican 2011 budget would result in the layoff of several thousand workers at the national labs and hamper industrial research ranging from the pharmaceutical industry to the oil and gas industry. The story leads, “A spending bill passed by the House of Representatives last week would bring the Department of Energy’s entire science program to a screeching halt and wreak havoc on research funded by other agencies and by private industry.” The budget charade being played out in Washington is nothing less than a national tragedy. Anyone who cares about the future of our nation should be speaking out on...

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A Fundamental Divide
Feb28

A Fundamental Divide

Is government capable of productive activity on behalf of citizens beyond providing for the national defense? That is the basic question now being played out in budget debates in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, important components of which are detailed in this week’s cover story, lead Government & Policy story, and two News of the Week stories (see pages 7 and 9). Democrats answer the question, “Yes.” Republicans, especially newly elected conservative representatives identified with the Tea Party faction of the party, answer, emphatically, “No!” That emphatic “no” has led the House of Representatives to pass a fiscal 2011 budget that, if it became reality, would damage our nation’s ability to compete effectively with nations that have embraced the proven idea that R&D, innovation, and investments in infrastructure are the keys to a nation’s economic success. It would hamstring our efforts to continue to protect the environment and to move toward a sustainable technological future. The fiscal 2011 budget passed by House Republicans is breathtaking in its irresponsibility. It insists, despite evidence from around the world, that government has little to no role to play in advancing the economic interests of the modern nation state. Please. Tell that to China. There is an argument to be made that the current U.S. budget deficit is unsustainable. But the answer to that problem is not mindless slashing of a range of vital programs in the name of fiscal responsibility. The budget debate has been hijacked by ideologues whose only response to the deficit is to cut spending. From Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) to Wisconsin’s newly elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker, the simplistic phrase du jour is, “We’re broke.” No, we’re not. We’re the richest country on the face of the Earth. We spend more on our military than all of the other nations on Earth combined. The answer to the deficit is a combination of judicious cuts in spending and higher taxes. On all of us. If I remember correctly, in 2000, before we started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that nobody thought about how to pay for and before a series of unneeded tax cuts were enacted, the U.S. budget was balanced. Taxes do three things, one of them negative and two of them at least potentially positive. The negative impact of taxes we all know. Taxes remove money from our pockets, money that we would like to keep possession of to save, invest, or spend on goods and services of our own choice. The positive impacts of taxes, disputed by Republicans since at least Ronald Reagan’s presidency, are twofold: They pay for services and institutions—ranging from our...

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