UI officials voice concerns over possible spending cuts to research
John Fingert researches the genetic basis of glaucoma. He is just one of countless researchers at the University of Iowa and across the country whose research could be scaled back, or even discontinued, if Congress fails to delay spending cuts by March 1.
“It’s a pound of flesh,” the UI ophthalmology associate professor said during a panel discussion on Monday. “When you’re asking someone for cuts, you’re really asking for your livelihood.”
Fingert said recent cuts amounted to 19 percent of his budget, and they have forced him to avoid using costly stem cells to further his research. However, those cuts would be smaller in scale compared to the so-called “sequestration.”
Sequestration is rooted in the 2011 Budget Control Act passed during the debt-ceiling debate. The agreement raised the debt ceiling in exchange for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts.
The debt ceiling is the total amount the United States can borrow to meet its existing obligations. However, the committee whose responsibility it was to implement the cuts failed to reach an agreement.
This forced automatic spending cuts ranging from medical research to aspects of defense spending. These cuts were originally scheduled to go into effect in January 2012, but they were delayed until March 1.
“[I’m not] even hopeful, let alone optimistic, anything will happen before March 1,” said Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who held the discussion at the UI Hospitals and Clinics and opposed the 2011 Act. “This is the easy way out to do something quickly like slashing and cutting and not talk about the long-term effects.”
Officials from around the UI detailed how possible cuts would affect their area of research on campus.
“Research isn’t something you can turn off for a few months and turn back on and have it where it was before,” said Edwin Stone, the director of the Institute for Vision Research. “What took two months to destroy can take three, four years to build back, and some of it might never come back.”
One UI ophthalmology professor echoed Loebsack’s concerns about sequestration, calling it a “political game.”
“Science is not a commodity,” said Keith Carter. “We could talk about every disease state and organ system, but people need to recognize the prioritization of health care.”
A political expert said sequestration was designed to be so drastic that neither Republicans nor Democrats would want it to go into effect.
“Everybody seems to have an incentive to keep it from happening … and if it goes into effect, in a sense, both sides lose,” said Tim Hagle, a UI associate professor of political science.
One UI official said a lack of funding could put the U.S. at a disadvantage because other nations, including China, continue to increase funding for both medical and general research.
“If you look at our global competitors, we are facing an increasing global array of competition,” said Daniel Reed, the UI vice president for Research and Economic Development.
If the deadline passes on March 1, Reed said federal agencies’ contingency plans will be unveiled, and the UI would begin work on implementing cuts.
Loebsack said possible help could come when the current debt ceiling expires March 27.
Officials expressed frustrations that Congress has let the debate go this far.
“I want the leaders of this country to do their job, so I can do mine,” Stone said.
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