A Weekly Advocacy Message From Mary Woolley: Making the lives of Americans Better, Safer and More Prosperous

Mary Woolley

 Dear Research Advocate:

A very close election has entered the history books, in the process laying bare the profound divisions that will challenge all our elected representatives as they seek to unify and heal the nation. We have been deluged with questions about the impact of a Trump Administration on science. A useful primer is his answers to the ScienceDebate.org questionnaire that we and several other groups worked together to create. For example, President-elect Trump says this:  “...the federal government should encourage innovation in the areas of space exploration and investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia.” He also says this: “Though there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous.”
 
In other answers, he acknowledges the crucial role of private sector innovation, the importance of a comprehensive vaccination program, and the need to “make the investment in treating our fellow citizens who suffer from severe mental illness.” President-elect Trump also answered research-related questions posed by the Pediatric Policy Council. Not every answer to this or the ScienceDebate.org questionnaire is promising; in fact, some answers are very concerning. But we have a choice. We can focus on our differences, or we can look for common ground and use it to help establish a path President Trump and the 115th Congress can take to ensure our global science and technology leadership. I am by no means saying we should stand down against bad policy, regardless of who seeks to advance it. What I am saying is that we should not write the ending before the story actually begins.
 
For an electorate so determined to make changes, it is striking to me that the election resulted in so little change in the composition of the Congress, both houses of which remain Republican-controlled: House of Representatives (238-193) and the Senate (51-46, plus 2 Independents who caucus with Democrats, and one race proceeding to run-off in LA). Although not set yet, most key congressional leadership will remain in place for the 115th Congress.
 
What is undeniably different in 2017 is that both legislative branches and the White House will be in the same party’s hands; we haven't seen that for six years. This scenario typically triggers action, not stand-off. Since medical research is both bipartisan and popular, it may mean good things for the NIH in particular, and perhaps more broadly for science and innovation. That said, we know that the President-elect is interested in tax cuts, budget cuts and increased defense spending, a lethal combination when it comes to resources for non-defense priorities like research and public health. Yet he is driven to leave a legacy that makes our nation all it can be. He hasn't written off science and innovation as a crucial component of accomplishing that goal, which is one more reason why it has never been more important to make the case for science. Never. 
 
If those of us who care about science and the profoundly important progress it can drive decide to sit by right now and choose not to advocate for our issues as critical components of achieving, in words oft-repeated in the ScienceDebate.org answers, a "better, safer and more prosperous" nation, policymakers and the public will focus elsewhere. Mr. Trump, and many Republicans and Democrats have stressed the need to shore up our nation’s basic infrastructure. While people may be thinking primarily about crumbling bridges, slow trains and potholes, nothing is more basic to a secure and thriving society than a high functioning public health infrastructure. That won’t be included if we don’t fight for it. 
 
Beyond making a strong case for a 21st century public health infrastructure, including a functioning safe drinking water system -- a highlighted priority for Mr. Trump -- we must continue to press to achieve immediate goals. On November 14, Congress goes back into session for a few short weeks, and it may be make or break for the Cures initiative. Yesterday, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) identified 21st Century Cures and government funding as his top two priorities for the remainder of the 114th Congress. We are planning a #CuresNOW Day of Action on November 14 to encourage Congress to finish their work on this important legislative package before the end of the year. I urge you to utilize the resources on our advocacy platform to send messages, make calls, and tweet directly to your representatives. If not #CuresNOW, then cures when?
 
In regard to government funding, the goal is to pass the appropriations bills negotiated this year, rather than defaulting to flat funding via another continuing resolution (CR). I encourage your organization to join our sign-on letter urging Congress to ensure robust funding for our federal research agencies and complete their work on FY17 appropriations bills. Simply fill out this form to include your organization.
 
For more on all of these issues, join us next Tuesday in person or via livestream for a post-election briefing. John Zogby will provide commentary, a distinguished panel moderated by news correspondent and author Lori Stokes will help us navigate this brave new world...it’s a can’t miss event.
 
As I close today, I would like to share a recent article from the Dalai Lama and AEI's Arthur Brooks, which discusses a fundamental human desire: We need to be needed and when we are not, we lose our focus and goals. We are all needed now to help advance our nation to a future that will realize its promise. I encourage all of you to use your talents and work together for a future of health, security, and prosperity, driven by research and innovation. 

Sincerely,

Mary Woolley

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You can change the image of things to come. But you can’t do it sitting on your hands … The science community should reach out to Congress and build bridges.
The Honorable John E. Porter