Everyone knows what the task is for the remainder of the year in Congress. The so-called fiscal cliff looms, and the challenge confronts each and every member. If past patterns are any indication, at the eleventh hour, on the edge of the precipice, Congress and the president will find a way to agree and a short-term compromise solution will be found. It is a nerve-wracking way to govern, but it is also part of the political process to which we have all become — perhaps a little too complacently — accustomed.
Much of the attention of going over the cliff has been focused on national defense and the health care safety net. But cuts resulting from sequestration threaten many more programs, particularly ones that would affect education, science and research, all of which would have serious consequences for our nation’s and our state’s future economic competitiveness.
Here at the University of Washington, for example, where federally funded research is looking for ways to regenerate damaged human cells from our own stem cells or create new vaccines to protect from deadly disease, the 8 percent automatic cuts would result in an immediate loss of $83 million in research funding alone, along with thousands of jobs related to that funding. These are impacts we can ill afford as the country continues to pull itself up from the economic abyss of 2008.
Clearly, the nation must reduce its budget deficit. But it must do so in a balanced and strategic way that does not compromise our ability to innovate, compete and grow our economy. For more than half a century, federally funded research has driven innovation, productivity, job creation and economic growth. In Washington state and the Puget Sound region, scientific and biomedical research generates innovations and discoveries that lead to new technologies, products and industries that improve our quality of life.
More than 260 companies have been created over the years from discoveries made at the UW, many of which grew out of research funded from the federal budget. Keeping our country competitive and ahead of the rest of the world requires the continued federal investment in innovation.
Solving our nation’s budget mess in a thoughtful and strategic way is essential. The rough-hewn approach of sequestration threatens too many programs that seek to ensure a better life for all Americans. So many of the challenges America faces — from climate change to curing diseases to perfecting alternative sources of energy and preserving the vitality of our planet — depend on research at our nation’s universities funded by federal tax dollars.
The stakes for us at the UW and the region are particularly high. For almost four decades, the University has been the number one recipient of federal research dollars among all public universities in the nation. As the third largest non-military employer in the state of Washington, one-third of our employment impact is related to this research mission. Important work will be interrupted or cease without a solution to the current federal budget impasse.
I appeal to our leaders in Congress to practice the fine art of compromise — the essence of political action without which no progress is possible. The solution will not be perfect; it must be practical and real.