Clinton Should Veto Research Cuts, Say Democrats

Rep. George Brown, the Democrat's science baron, wants a presidential veto of Republican science cuts -- but he's not optimistic

True to their word, House Republicans have significantly cut government spending on science and technology, forcing Democrats to plead for something they're not likely to get -- a presidential veto.

Although the final numbers have not been settled, House Republicans have authorized spending of $23.6 billion on civilian science and technology during 1996, down $4.4 billion from President Bill Clinton's request for $28 billion.

The figure may drift up one or two billion dollars once the Senate completes spending plans, or it may be forced down by the House and Senate appropriations committees, which are seeking to divert science-related funding to other programs.

The cutbacks deserved to be vetoed because they will hurt national research efforts and hamstring U.S. economic strength after 2000, says Rep. George Brown, D-Calif., who was replaced as chairman of the Science Committee by Rep. Robert Walker, R-Pa. "We're going to face a new crisis [of economic strength]," he said.

However, despite lobbying the White House for a veto threat that would help reduce the budget cuts, "so far I have not had much luck," Brown said.

A policy of frequent veto threats can strengthen Clinton's stature, said Brown. Although "presidents tend to waffle all over the place... he'll probably end up taking that position," he said. President Clinton has already threatened to veto the telecommunications reform bill and other measures unless his priorities are included. But he made no veto threat to protect science spending.

Even if no veto is forthcoming, there may be a presidential speech in favor of federal support for science and technology, said Rick Borchelt, a spokesman for the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Officials in the office are asking the White House to stage a presidential speech in the fall, he said. But OSTP officials have not yet won White House approval for the speech, he said.

The House-imposed cutbacks were put in place to balance the national budget by 2002. Because the science committee worked closely with the powerful appropriations committees that actually allocate money for each program, the science committee's priorities "had significant influence with the appropriators," said Walker.

The cuts sliced the Department of Energy's science spending from $5.5 billion to $4.4 billion, and the department's technology transfer programs were eliminated. But the House appropriations committee gave the department an extra $325 million for fossil and conservation-related research.These figures mask a deeper loss in buying power due to inflation, now running at 3 percent in the research sector, say industry officials. The Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program and next-generation vehicle technology program were killed, helping to cut the department's science budget from $1 billion to $412 million. The appropriations committee added $81 million to keep the Manufacturing Extension Program alive. The budget for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was cut from $2.2 billion to $1.8 billion. n

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