WASHINGTON _ Democrats here are starting to pound the drumsof doom about the potential adverse effects of the HouseRepublicans' Contract with America on federal research anddevelopment spending. They say massive cuts for non-defensediscretionary spending _ including the National Institutes ofHealth's (NIH) hefty $11 billion plus budget _ loom on the horizon.

Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) released an analysis on Wednesdayprojecting that total federal funding for research and developmentwill have to be slashed by 50 percent or more over the next fiveyears. That estimate is based on several critical assumptions,including full adoption of the contract's proposed middle class taxcut, unchanged defense spending (adjusted for inflation), noreductions in entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare andMedicaid) and across-the-board (i.e., proportional) cuts in all non-defense discretionary programs.

Brown, the ranking Democratic member (formerly the chairman) ofthe House Science Committee, claimed the cuts would do "seriousdamage to the R & D infrastructure of the U.S."

According to an analysis done by the Democratic staff of the ScienceCommittee, the total cumulative reduction in federal spendingrequired to balance the budget, complies with mandated budget capsand pay for "Republican tax cuts" through 2002 exceeds $1.7 trillion.Using the assumptions listed above, annual federal research anddevelopment outlays _ which currently run about $72 billion peryear _ would need to decline to about $35 billion per year. Andthat's before adjusting for inflation.

Brown claims most of the cuts would come from areas such asacademic research, medical research and technology development."Technology innovation and scientific discovery in this country willdecline precipitously, and every American will be denied theenormous economic and social benefits that come from newknowledge and new American technologies," said Brown in aprepared statement.

Rep. Robert Walker (R-Pa.), chairman of the House ScienceCommittee, has been a strong supporter of basic research, though hehas said the private sector is the most fertile and efficient source oftechnological innovation. He has sharply criticized governmentprograms such as the Commerce Department's AdvancedTechnology Program, in which high-risk technology development ispromoted by federal dollars, calling it misguided "governmentalindustrial policy."

There's no evidence yet that Republicans will target the NIH forbudget cuts. Indeed, a $20 billion rescissions package to this year'sbudget subtracted a mere $70 million from the NIH's coffers. "Sure,the NIH emerged unscathed in the current round of cuts," Brownspokesman Tony Clark told BioWorld. "But next year, we need to cut$45 billion. Once you've squeezed everything out, you start makingthe really painful cuts."

However, it's unlikely that cuts in non-defense discretionaryspending will be proportional, if they are made. Republicans likelywill target specific programs and agencies, rather than proposingacross-the-board cuts. Further, the future of a middle class tax cut isdecidedly unclear. Earlier this week, Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.),chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that authorizesNIH funds, said he did not believe a tax cut would be enacted. He'salso a staunch supporter of biomedical research.

Clark told BioWorld that Brown's goal in releasing his budgetaryanalysis (which was based on figures from the Congressional BudgetOffice and the Department of Treasury) was to point out that hardchoices lay ahead for Americans. "If we don't reform the entitlementsprograms in this country, there will be an enormous decline in federalR & D spending," said Clark. "The public needs to wake up to thefact that some very difficult choices are going to have to be madehere. n

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.