Transcript: Press briefing remarks by Hunter Rawlings on the impacts of sequestration on federally-funded research & innovations

Partial transcript of remarks by Hunter Rawlings, President of the Association of American Universities, on the negative impacts of sequestration. The press briefing was held on Feb. 11, 2013.

…Sequester’s the most unpopular thing in Washington, D.C. since the Dallas Cowboys. [Laughter] It’s mindless and will cause great harm to our country. The President hates it. Speaker [John] Boehner hates it. Majority Leader Harry Reid hates it. And they created it! Imagine how the rest of us feel about it.

Yet, somehow our leaders can’t seem to figure a way out of it.

We all agree the country needs to find a more sustainable fiscal path. In my view, we need a balanced approach…that includes both spending and revenues.

Cuts in spending should focus on programs that are growing the most – not on discretionary spending, which is not growing, is not the problem, and yet has already borne the brunt of cuts.

Discretionary spending is the part of the budget where America’s future lies. It includes such investments as research and education. Cutting investment in our future is not the way to solve this problem. Yet, it’s exactly what the sequester will do.

There’s a better way. We’ve talked quite a bit today about the impacts of the sequester on an economy that’s still recovering. I want to focus on the longer term – the economy and the nation that we will leave to our children, our grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

The research is being cut so severely by the sequester affects the long-term health, quality of life, and economic and national security of our coming generations. It’s how we figure out clean forms of energy, make medical advances that save lives and ultimately reduce the costs of health care, develop the technologies that defend our country and make our fighting men and women safer, and advance our economy.

More than half – more than half – of economic growth in this country since World War II has resulted from technological advances, none of which would have been possible – or almost none of which would have been possible – without the basic research funded by the federal government.

Sometimes this all sounds very theoretical but we live it everyday. Let me hold up for you this fetching little iPhone. Can’t get along without this thing. You all have one in your pocket. Or perhaps you’re looking at it right now and not listening to me. [Laughter] Which, by the way, is pretty standard for us professors so it’s not surprising.

This device that you have in your pocket – and I have in mine – would not exist were it not for federally-funded research. Let me show you why.

The GPS that enables your device to guide you to your destination would not exist without the federally-funded research that produced the atomic clock. So Apple made this thing and they did a great job but without the atomic clock, it doesn’t work.

The touch screen – an amazing thing – even I, a classics professor, can use it – came directly from research funded by the National Science Foundation. We don’t think about that.

The liquid crystal display or LCD monitor used on these phones comes from research funded by the NIH, the National Institutes for Health.

The rechargeable lithium ion batteries that run these phones came out of basic research funded by the Department of Energy.

And even the integrated circuit, which you find in practically all electronic equipment, benefitted from federally-funded research as well as from great skill by industry.

So this device that we all can’t get along came, to a great extent, from federally-funded research. These things can’t keep coming if we don’t invest in basic research. That’s why it has strong bipartisan support in Congress and why President Obama is such as strong advocate for it.

But the reality of the federal budget is that the discretionary spending from which we fund this research is getting squeezed tighter and tighter, and now, the sequester cuts non-defense discretionary spending by 5% this year alone, which is really 9% given where we are in the year.

The OMB says this would force the National Science Foundation to issue nearly 1,000 fewer research grants, curtailing the work of an estimated 12,000 scientists and engineers. It would require NIH to make hundreds fewer research awards.

Finally, in addition to research…the sequester would hurt students through cuts to student financial aid. It would cut work study and other financial aid programs. Why would we penalize young Americans working their way through college? What kind of message does that send? It is not a message of opportunity.

So the sequester, instead, is stupid. It is short-sighted, and it should not happen. We urge the President and the Congress to stop the sequester and address our fiscal challenges in a balanced, sensible way.

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