Even as dozens of elections across the nation remained undecided or subject to recounts, it was clear that a divided Congress – and a divided nation – would have a significant impact on the future of medical and scientific research. Research!America’s Post-Election Briefing on November 8, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. featured distinguished scientists and research advocates who to discussed the impact of the election and ways to advance research and development (R&D).
The midterm elections will have an impact on “medical and health progress, for R&D writ large and more broadly for the process of policy making which affects all of these priorities,” said Research!America’s President and CEO Mary Woolley in her opening remarks. “There is still a lot of advocacy to be done.”
Reid Wilson, national correspondent for The Hill, set the stage by highlighting some of the big trends in the election: The suburban electorate swung heavily Democrat, women were elected in numbers never seen in history, and the nation remains fundamentally divided along rural, urban, cultural, political, social, and geographical lines. He also framed the challenge facing science advocates today: “Science is rarely at the top of the political agenda because it feels so big,” he said.
That comment was reflected in the experience shared by Rachel Owen, co-founder of the Missouri Science and Technology Policy Fellows Program (MOST), one of the graduate and postdoc-led student science policy groups to receive a microgrant from Research!America’s Bipartisan Civic Engagement Program. In the events organized by MOST, it became clear that candidates feel like they are not the experts in science, which makes it even more important for scientists to be advocates for their work.
A panel lead by PBSNewsHour’s Yamiche Alcindor did a deep dive into the implications of the election for R&D. The panel included The Hon. Michael N. Castle, Research!America Board Chair and Partner, DLA Piper, The Hon. John Edward Porter, Research!America Chair Emeritus and Senior Advisor, Hogan Lovells LLP, The Hon. Bart Gordon, Research!America Board Member and Partner, K&L Gates LLP and Sudip Parikh, PhD, Research!America Board Member and Senior Vice President & Managing Director, DIA Americas. While the panelists agreed that a Democratic House and a Republican Senate would result in a general increase in support for science in general, challenge remained on the horizon for medical R&D funding specifically. “The bottom line is that you will find that there’s going to be a necessity that the parties work together,” said Castle. However, Porter pointed out, this higher priority for science might also mean more competition for limited funds. And, as Gordon pointed out, sequestration is also looming. “There’s about a $54 billion hole that’s going to be in discretionary spending soon,” he said.
Another potential area for bipartisan collaboration might be a renewed focus on infrastructure, which could end up being broadly defined to include, for example, hospitals or other research facilities. “Everybody wants to get their hands into infrastructure and it’s going to be defined in the broadest way,” said Gordon. The panel also discussed potential issues such as drug pricing, STEM education, the continued opioid crisis and funding mechanisms such as forward funding.
The panel concluded with a clear call to action. “Advocacy matters!” said Porter. “Get out there and advocate and work for what you believe in.” Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley closed by saying, “It’s everybody’s job to be reaching out to build champions among the new members of Congress.” With nearly 100 new members, “that’s a lot of people who have the potential to be the kind of leaders that we need if we’re going to see progress.”