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Super Committee Failure Could Mean Fewer NIH, NSF Grants

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A dozen Congressional leaders tasked with striking a bipartisan agreement to cut the federal deficit said yesterday that they have failed to reach a deal, and that failure would now trigger a plan that would, if enacted, cut research funding across the government by nearly 8 percent.

The inability of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction - the 'Super Committee' - to agree on a plan means that the fallback option, called sequestration, which was designed as a painful impetus to force a deal, calls for $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts.

Scheduled to begin in 2013, half of these cuts to discretionary spending would be culled from defense spending, but the rest would come from other federal departments and agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

According to an analysis by the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norman Dicks (D - Wash.), the sequestration plan will include a 7.8 percent cut for agencies such as NIH, NSF, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Such a cut at NIH would mean the agency would be able to provide about 2,500 to 2,700 fewer research project grants per year. It also would mean a per-year cut of $530 million at NSF, which would translate to a cut of $430 million for research grants. At that level, NSF would be able to fund around 1,500 fewer research and education grants, supporting roughly 18,000 fewer researchers, students, and technical support personnel than it did in fiscal year 2011.

The sequestration plan, which is part of the Budget Control Act that Congress and the White House agreed upon last summer, is intended as an automatic trigger to force a bipartisan deal. But because it would not take effect until 2013, it is not certain that it will actually happen.

The Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-led House could reach a deal between now and then that would override the plan, or they could agree to get rid of the sequestration altogether.

President Barack Obama said yesterday, however, that he would not support untying the sequestration plan without another deal to take its place.

"I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off ramps on this one," he said.

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