America Voted. Now What for Science?
For Congressional Democrats, the midterm elections were not fun.
Republicans picked up almost every competitive Senate race, except New Hampshire and Virginia (which wasn't even supposed to be competitive!), taking over the majority in the 100 seat chamber with 53 seats (Alaska is unconfirmed still, but will go Republican). Louisiana will need a runoff election, but sitting Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is in trouble, meaning the Republican majority could sit 54-46 in just a few weeks. 60 votes - the amount needed to overcome a filibuster - will still be an important threshold that Republicans will still have to deal with, but a simple majority of 51 votes can pass a lot of bills.
Republicans also added to their majority in the House-which will now be their largest since 1928. The Speaker of the House,John Boehner (R-OH) recently outlined some of his top priorities for 2015, including simplifying of the tax code, reducing entitlement spending, malpractice and litigation reform, reducing the regulatory burden on business, and promoting school choice.
So for those in the science community, what can we expect?
NIH is popular across the political aisle, but will it rise to the priority level it needs to in the new Congress to avert the automatic budget cuts that are currently scheduled? Republicans have a history of supporting NIH (they controlled the House and Senate when NIH was doubled from 1999-2003), but with the Tea Party still controlling a significant amount of seats, will Speaker Boehner now have a large enough majority where he can lose some of those votes and still pass a bipartisan bill to boost the NIH budget once again?
The 2015 fiscal year officially started on Oct 1, but the Congress didn't (and usually doesn't) pass a budget bill for NIH by that time. Instead, they passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to temporarily keep NIH and other agencies funded at last year's operating levels. The CR expires on December 11, meaning Congress will have to either a.) come to an agreement on the 2015 budget for NIH by that time and pass it as part of a larger budget bill (an Omnibus) that is expected to move forward, or b.) punt finalizing the NIH budget until sometime next year, after the Republican majority has taken over the Senate. What does this mean to grantees? It most likely means NIH will be flat-funded (a cut when considering inflation) and Institutes and Centers won't know their final budget until sometime in March - meaning delayed award notices once again. There's a possibility that there could be a cut to NIH if its budget bill is indeed wrapped up under Republican control next March, putting more downward pressure on success rates (especially for those that are awaiting notice).
In the meantime, you can help tell Congress about the importance of imaging research! Please visit the Academy's action center at http://action.imagingcoalition.org. It takes just three clicks, and will send a letter to your three legislators about the importance of funding the NIH when the current CR expires in December.