Has science become a one-party issue in Congress?
A coalition of university organizations with a new Web site touting the benefits to the country from the $21 billion being spent on basic research via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) hopes that the answer is no. But the absence of Republicans from the dias at today's Capitol Hill event was a reminder that not a single House of Representatives Republican voted for the Recovery Act back in February because of fears that the $787 billion stimulus package would break the bank.
The featured presenter was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–CA), flanked by four of the House's biggest advocates for increased research spending: Representatives Bart Gordon (D–TN), Rush Holt (D–NJ), Ed Markey (D–MA), and Bill Foster (D–IL). And their message—that research is an investment in the country's long-term prosperity, health, and security—is something that normally attracts bipartisan support within Congress. But not today.
"This was an event to commemorate the passage of the Recovery Act" and a [December 2008] meeting at Princeton University that helped to bolster support among Democrats for spending a portion of the money on research, explains Barry Toiv of the Association of American Universities, a co-sponsor of the site. "So we only asked supporters of the legislation."
Thus, Gordon's exhortation that "we have to get the band back together" wasn't just a call to his wildly supportive audience to continue to make the case for the value of basic research. It was also a not-too-subtle suggestion that they need to find a way for those Republicans who traditionally support research to demonstrate their support for the cause despite a trillion-dollar budget deficit. And that will take a lot more than a rally and a Web site.