Congress hates science, too

By Phil Plait | December 19, 2007 8:38 pm

Remember when I said Bush hates science?

He’s not alone.

The House and Senate passed an omnibus budget — the budget needed to fund the operation of the government. That would normally be great, but they have made some pretty severe science cuts. At first blush they don’t sound bad, or even really like cuts: in general science agencies got a raise of 1-3% over the previous year.

However, when you account for inflation, those raises don’t keep up, so in reality the agencies affected — NIH, NSF, NASA, and others — got a cut. And while the cuts aren’t crippling, exactly, they come at a time when the US has already ramped up some big projects, which means that any cut at all hurts more than usual.

When I worked at Goddard Space Flight Center we all went through this many times. I was a contractor, so the NASA cuts didn’t affect me directly, but the annual raise I got was sometimes less than inflation. And I had it relatively good, since other people I knew actually got their salaries cut back. Oddly, mortgage companies don’t care what your salary is once they have your name on the dotted line. So a lot of folks were hurt directly by this.

And here we are again. When budgets get hit, it’s usually salaries that take the heat, so this will suck for a lot of scientists.

I didn’t even know the budget was being worked on, so I didn’t call and write my Senators and Representative. I’m a little ticked at the mainstream media for not even mentioning this. Apparently they are more concerned with Romney’s haircut.

I can console myself with the knowledge that the Democrats have now abrogated for all eternity their spines. They caved to the President’s demand for Iraq war funding. Oh — I also heard abstinence-only education got funded for another year. It’s cold comfort that it was at the same level as last year, so they get a hit as well. But funding provably and proven useless stuff at any level is insulting anyway.

Anyway, if you want more, JoAnn at Cosmic Variance has details, as does MyDD (specifically about FermiLab’s hit), and Slashdot.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Politics, Science

Comments (35)

  1. hale_bopp

    Fermilab would take a $60 million hit and stop R&D on the International Linear Collider. This could cripple the U.S. bid to have it built in the U.S. and cripple U.S. high energy physics.,1,2424810.story?ctrack=1&cset=true


  2. Christian X Burnham

    Don’t worry- the Democrats agreed 70,000,000,000 dollars for war funding.

    You need an astronomy degree to even comprehend how big that number is.

  3. BruteForce

    What’s the fastest/easiest way to calculate for inflation? I’ve always wondered how much my bosses had been shafting me each year, but generally been too busy paying bills to find out by how much…

  4. Michael Lonergan

    What is happening with the Constellation Project. I had heard the the US Congress was now cutting back the already meager budget for a return to the Moon? To my even untrained eye, it really seems like this whole project is not being put forth in a way that captures the publics imagination as the Apollo Project was. I only hope that the next Administration takes the “Bull by the Horns” so to speak and develops a real and comprehensive plan for manned space exploration.

  5. Kevin L.

    You know, our government here is a helluva thing. Both parties lack essential body parts – Republicans a brain, Democrats a spine – yet somehow the political body still functions.

  6. BruteForce

    – yet somehow the political body still functions.

    the taxpayer is seemingly a reliable life-support system for such things :/

  7. Michael Lonergan

    Christian, yes, and how many Lunar and Mars Missions would that have funded, as well as providing much needed social programs here on earth. That is 70 TRILLION dollars! Even though I am not American, I cannot see the next Administration (Republican or Democrat) really changing course in regards to foreign policy. (Other than Hillary’s brilliant plan of sending Bill and George Sr. on a Global Apology Tour for the past 8 years.)

    Now nations like Russia, China, Japan and India are threatening to leapfrog ahead in the Space Game. It is very sad.

  8. Michael Lonergan

    Sorry That was 70 BILLION. Still an inconceivable number.

  9. Christian X Burnham

    OK, to put the war-funding in some perspective- the Democrats approved almost 1 dollar for every star in the Milky Way.

    Take that BA!

  10. Michael Lonergan

    Does that include Black Holes? O wait…. that would be this Admin.

  11. Grand Lunar

    Do black holes count as stars?

    I did mention the budget approved for the war in another blog entry.

    I do hope that the US gets out of there and allocates the spending more intelligently. A mere $10 billion to NASA, a few more billion to REAL science programs, and the leftovers for social programs.

  12. DennyMo

    “I didn’t even know the budget was being worked on, so I didn’t call and write my Senators and Representative. I’m a little ticked at the mainstream media for not even mentioning this.”

    You’re kidding, right? This has been in the news for months. NPR has been discussing it ad infinitum for the past two weeks. True, the media has drivelled on about the inanities of the Presidential campaign way too much, but the budget battle has been “above the fold” a lot of the time.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    Brute Force”
    Inflation is really tricky, especially since housing, food and energy are no longer included in the cost of living index,,,
    ,,,guess no one wants us to know how shafted we really are,,,

    Let’s see,,,,a War on Terrorists, a War on Drugs, a War on Puberty(as in abstention only sex ed) and a War on reason,,,
    No wonder we don’t have any money for research and development,,,

    Ah, America,,,,I knew her before she was decimated by the marching morons,,,

    Gary 7

  14. Doc

    What baffles me is that lately when congress disagrees with the whitehouse on things, like getting out of Iraq or domestic spending programs, it’s always presented as congress being unwilling to cooperate or compromise. No one in the media is screaming at that moron megalomaniac of a president to give an inch. No one points out that he never gives an inch. No, instead the media broadcasts the Srub’s speaches about congress’ irresponsability and congress, seeing the upcoming election and worrying about their own necks, caves in.

    I’m thoroughly disgusted with just about everyone in our government.

  15. Daffy

    Have you noticed that Republicans are once again starting to blather about the “irresponsible spending” of Democrats?

    “The wheels on the bus go round and round…”

    Were it not for the fact that the 2 major parties are destroying this country, it would be funny. It’s still kinda funny.

  16. CR

    Re: Abstinence only education… well, at least now “Zoe 101” star Jamie Lynn Spears (at the tender age of 16) has shown very publically how well teenagers abstain from sex. I’m not saying that she was ever part of an abstinence-only program, since I don’t actually know. But it might be helpful to have such a highly visible teen getting pregnant, instead of the anonymous masses of teens we never, ever hear about. Maybe it will wake people up and get them to realize that hormonally charged teens aren’t going to ‘just say no’ to sexual activity.

    Sure, and maybe the US government (both sides) will cooperate for the greater good and make the country better than it is now…

    Oh, well, I can dream.

  17. Michael Lonergan

    To Gary: “War On Puberty”. Personally I think Bush is taking his search for WMD a little too far when he starts looking in the pants of horny teenagers.

  18. You know, I have to like how this is being portrayed as Congress “caving in” to the President, when it is Congress that cut the Administration’s spending request, not vice versa.

    And this has zero to do with war spending. We’re in deficit, people. The government is spending whatever it likes. The idea that it is cutting program A to pay for program B is silly. Oppose the war all you like — I do — but quit trying to blame everything else on it.

  19. Will. M.

    Don’t forget the earmarks that accompany EVERY SINGLE appropriations bill and are inserted by BOTH parties and finally approved by both parties – in addition to the program cuts made to the bills. And the cuts have a very real effect on other programs, deficit spending or no, because it isn’t as simple as taking money from one pocket and putting it into the other. It is like spending the milk money on a lottery ticket when you’re account’s overdrawn; you’re still not getting the milk (and you’re not likely to win, but you do get a ticket).

  20. Stuart

    As far as Constellation goes, it was obvious to me, from the start, that Shrub’s new “vision” for space was nothing more than an attempt to capture the Geek vote. (Which is rather lame – All but the most out-of-touch Geeks have, by definition, enough brainpower to see all his other failings for what they are!)

    NASA may have embarked on the Constellation program because they were ordered to, or because it is something cool that they wanted to. But I’m sure they were really waiting for a new administration to hopefully provide the actual funding for it. That is something King George II somehow failed to provide.

    As for the Parties’ missing body-parts: Both Parties lack brains. What the Reps lack the most, are hearts. They are cold, calculating, selfish bastards with ice in their veins. All that matters is their own wallets. Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans, poor and middle-class Americans* – To the Reps, these are just pawns to be played with, not people with feelings.

    *and Gays, Muslims in general, pregnant teens, their own soldiers, Mexicans

  21. Stuart

    Oh, and before someone says “so are the Democrats”, let me concede: Yes, they are the same. But it’s a question of degree. Several orders of magnitude, I would guess.

  22. Sergeant Zim

    Three surgeons were arguing about what profession they preferred to operate on.
    The first surgeon said that he liked to operate on Librarians – all the body parts are so neatly alphabetized.
    The second surgeon said that he liked to operate on Engineers – everything is logically arranged, color-coded, and he can make improvements whenever he could.
    The third surgeon said he liked to operate on politicians. The other two looked at him in surprise, but he stood his ground. “They have no heart, no guts, no spine, and the head and the anus are interchangeable”.

  23. The big problem is, we don’t even KNOW what inflation is. The Federal Reserve stopped publishing M3, which is the best count of the amount of money in the economy, including savings, investments, and credits. This tells you directly how much monetary inflation the economy has experienced.

    They’re not telling us what it is anymore. They’re still calculating it, they’re still using it, they’re just not telling us what it is.

    They recently claimed that inflation was <1%, in order to make it look like GDP is a lot better than it is. I’m glad to see you don’t believe that.

  24. Tom

    I was wondering when/if this was going to be covered here. Kinda surprised you hadn’t heard about it. Good post. Heavy on facts, light on hyperbole.

  25. Helioprogenus

    What spines are those BA?
    Democrats never had spines to begin with, because they, along with the Republicans have pandered themselves out to the special interests a very long time ago. You don’t need a spine when you’re a slime ball, and most of Congress deserves to be cleaned out of their jobs. Why should their salaries go up, when hard working scientists must constantly fear for cuts, and even job losses.

    What we need is an independent political party that’s completely secular and science based. Maybe the Rational Party. No pandering to the religious, or to the special interests, but functioning to keep science and math education at a competitive level with the rest of the developing world. We’re falling behind because most of these mindless dolts in Congress (Regardless of party affiliation) are getting fat on the salaries that we as a nation provide them. When you stop paying your income tax, they fight you tooth and nail, yet where does your money go? Into that draining cesspool of Iraq? Into religious based initiatives like abstinence only education? All sorts of diversionary funds for useless pork that never percolates down to the general population?

  26. Jeffersonian

    Cheer up, our local idiot hatemonger Tancredo dropped out. The omnibus is passed annually at this time, Phil, keep that in mind. That may be one reason why the press buries it, cuz it appears to be “old news”. And every year, our congressman have their aides read through what they just passed to see what was paperclipped (i.e. pork). This takes months to accomplish and months/years more to fix sometimes (such as the bill a few years back that would have required every American to pay as much as $80 to enter or cross public lands). Maybe it’s just too challenging to figure it all out and then report on it? I dunno, but you can’t really complain to your congressman because they can only concentrate on a few of the bigger components and you wouldn’t know what to complain about unless you authored/sponsored a section, knew someone who did or were on a committee as such. This, in turn, is because it’s a piece of legislation that has to be passed or our government grinds to a halt. This happened once for a couple days in the 90s, you might recall. As for the war funding, wtf Democrats? How did that ship run aground?

  27. Jeffersonian

    As far as cuts go, we are at the tip of the iceberg. If you do the math, it will take drastic cuts and massive tax increases to pay the debt on the Iraq War II. That decision was made by the American public in 2004. China purchased our debt. The trillions in interest we will eventually pay them will cause EVERYTHING to be cut (and not just Science). It’s the legacy we will lay in and there’s no getting around it. The comfort level we have known in this country will not be there in the future – it’s just not mathematically possible. So, to complain about stasis in Science funding is to ignore this reality, no? We can blame our current congress, but who looked at the future and decided it was just fine to continue on that course?

  28. I love that they just passed an energy bill to lavish money on stupid things like ethanol, but ended our funding of ITER – the nuclear fusion project, which has genuine potential.

  29. Aleksandar

    What has science ever done for us?
    It gave us nuclear weapons, poison gas in WWI trenches, Zyclon B and crematoria. Science created DDT and thalidomide. Mass extinctions, sea dead zones and global warming. Science tries to steal away the meaning and purpose and love for Christ from people. It must be banned. Science is a much greater threat to American way of life (TM) than terrorism. We should support Bush in a new and great war on science.

    OK, this isnt hurting just NASA or just alternative energy sources or just… I mean, wtf? Why are you people voting for them? For most part we can say we are living in this age and are not still trapped in dark ages due to science and scientific method.
    Modern democracy? Impossible without way of though introduced by Age of Enlightenment…

    No, in no way can I understand US politics…

  30. Psychman

    The Republicans are better! The Democrats are better! Why does anyone waste their time defending either party. It has been clear for a long, long time that the only thing that motivates either party is achieving and maintaining power. Each party adopts a posture and panders to the groups who identify with that particular posture. This takes a great deal of money, so each party makes sure to pander especially hard to the big corporations and other special interests with cash to spend. Except for dramatic events and crises, the government continues essentially the same policies regardless of who has the power.

    And, of course, both parties ignore science as much as they can. The parties don’t want factual information that can lead to rational decisions because that would interfere with the things they are trying to get the public to believe in and act upon. Governments such as ours encourage ignorance; ignorant people are much easier to manipulate.

  31. Psychman:

    Republicans are better! They clean the hair! NO! Democrats are better! They go on after, making the hair silky and smooth!

    People like simplifying a complex world so their simple monkey brains can comprehend it better. Black and white, yin and yang, good and evil, active and passive, chocolate and vanilla, communist and capitalist, altruist or egoist. The infinite gradiations of reality are mind-boggling, and so everything must be racked, stacked, and categorized for our limited minds to cope.


  32. The fusion project lost about 10% of its funding. Very disappointing.

  33. Psychman writes:

    [[ Except for dramatic events and crises, the government continues essentially the same policies regardless of who has the power.]]

    It makes a difference who controls the government, especially if you are trying to get an abortion (judicial appointments and state laws), trying to get cash assistance when you can’t find a job (federal, state and local laws), or might be drafted to fight overseas (federal). Who gets in really does matter.

  34. We have what’s called a two-party system. While meaningfully better than a one-party system, it does have the effect that no third party has a reasonable chance of sucess in a national election. (When introduced, a third party does nothing more than “spoil” votes that would otherwise have been cast for the most ideologically similar of the major parties) Changing this would require serious election reform.

  35. Hey! Thank you for the truly great posting. Stay the best! 😉


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