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McCain, Obama Advisors Claim Candidates' Support for Greater Science Funding

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) - Both campaigns in the US presidential race have now gone on record saying their candidates are strong supporters of the National Institutes of Health, of science funding in general, and of research and development tax credits, although only one so far has provided specifics of how much he would want to invest in biomedical research in his administration. 
 
Less than six weeks before America hits the polls, health advisors for the two frontrunners met last night at a forum sponsored by the Science and Engineers of America in Washington, DC, to discuss health policy and science.
 
Republican Party nominee Senator John McCain (R – Ariz.) is a “strong supporter” of science and biomedical research, who will do “everything possible” to give researchers what they need to continue to spark and fuel innovation, McCain Health Policy Advisor Jay Khosla told a group at the George Washington University-hosted forum.
 
Meantime, the Democrats’ nominee for president plans to double funding for basic research over ten years, including spending on the NIH, and also would support extending tax credits for R&D expenses, Senator Barack Obama’s (D – Ill.) Health and Science Policy Advisor Dora Hughes said. 
 
“[Obama] also has been a strong champion for genomics research, for cutting-edge research that could lead to greater prevention, diagnostic, and development tools,” Hughes said, citing the senator’s introduction last year of the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2007.
 
Khosla did not name legislation McCain has supported that is specific to genomics or genetics, but he pointed out that the long-time senator previously supported the doubling of the NIH budget in his career. He was referring to the plan begun in the 1990’s and ending in 2004 that expanded the NIH budget systematically from around $13 billion to over $27 billion — a budget program that since has slowed and declined against the tide of biomedical inflation.
 
Although last night’s forum was sponsored by scientists and other science groups and was ostensibly to be a dialogue about science and health policy, the discussion became mired in the intricacies of health insurance policy and little science was discussed.

The senators’ advisors quarreled over voting records and over the values driving decisions about healthcare policy, and at the end of the night they did not speak much about science beyond the ethics of embryonic stem cell research.
 
However, Obama said recently in response to a series of science-related questions from the group ScienceDebate2008 that science funding recently has been “unacceptable,” because “after a period of growth of the life sciences, the NIH budget has been steadily losing buying power for the past six years.”
 
“This isn't just counter-productive, it is a failure to keep faith with so many Americans who are in the fight of their lives against cancer and other diseases, and it overlooks our country's tradition of medical innovation,” the senator said in a policy position on his campaign’s website.
 
“As president, I will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade,” Obama said in the statement.
 
Senator McCain also this week submitted his responses to the ScienceDebate2008 group, which had publicly lobbied the candidates to debate science issues in an organized setting, and outlined his policies on healthcare, space exploration, education, and other fields.
 
“I have supported increased funding at DOE, NSF, and NIH for years and will continue to do so,” McCain wrote. “I will continue my commitment to ensure that the funding is properly managed and that the nation's research needs are adequately addressed.”
 
McCain did not detail his NIH funding plans specifically, and last night Khosla also did not provide numbers about what funding goals the senator would set.
 
Meanwhile, in addition to supporting a doubling of the NIH budget, Obama has called for providing “greater support for high-risk, high-return research” and for young scientists at the beginning of their careers.
 
Neither Obama nor McCain voted for or against the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which was passed in the Senate in late April and signed into law in May. However, McCain wrote in his answers to ScienceDebate2008, “As genetic research becomes increasingly deployed, the need to ensure privacy of human records will become all the more essential, as will be the rigor to ensure there is no genetic discrimination.”
 
Obama expressed concern “about the premature introduction of genetic testing into the public domain without appropriate oversight.” He noted that he had introduced the Genomics and Personalized Medicine Act of 2007, “aimed at ensuring the safety and accuracy of such testing.”
 
Both candidates support passing a law that would make R&D tax credits permanent. The most recent such bill in Congress is the Research Credit Improvement Act of 2007, which would establish a 20 percent alternative simplified tax credit rate for some research expenses and would increase the amount of basic and contract research expenses eligible for such tax credits, while making that credit permanent.
 
“At a time when our companies need to be more competitive, we need to provide a permanent incentive to innovate, and remove the uncertainty now hanging over businesses as they make R&D investment decisions,” McCain said.
 
Obama agreed, saying that he wants to make that tax credit permanent “so that firms can rely on it when making decisions to invest in domestic R&D over multi-year timeframes.”
 
 
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