Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., gave a grim outlook to a University of Wisconsin crowd Friday on the future of government help in the basic sciences, saying she believes the recent shift to a Republican majority in the House of Representatives does not bode well for its future.
By invitation of the UW Chemistry Department, Baldwin spoke to faculty, staff and students, and said prior to the election, she was optimistic about the future of the sciences.
“If you asked me a little over a week ago about the state of the sciences, I would have said ‘all systems go’, but after Tuesday’s elections I have to say I’m a little disappointed in the direction we could be headed,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said she did not want to be partisan on the issue, but detailed her history on the two committees during times of Republican majority and how these majorities made it difficult to pass more legislation advancing the sciences.
“Both [hearings] were dedicated exclusively to try and poke holes in climate change evidence, by holding panels of climatologists and trying to create doubt in their conclusions,” Baldwin said.
She detailed the implications for the science departments at UW and said the Obama Administration helped provide much of the money for research on campus through increased National Institutes of Health funding in the President’s 2010 budget.
According to Baldwin, UW received $96 million from NIH and $41 million from the National Science Foundation.
But Baldwin’s main concerns come from whether or not the 2011 budget will be passed during the lame-duck session of Congress or if it will have to wait until after Republicans take over the house on Jan. 3.
“This legislation would put basic research programs on a doubling path over the next ten years, something I talked about with UW faculty earlier in the year. This bill currently languishes in the Senate, and now the new leadership could halt these advances,” Baldwin said.
While Baldwin painted a bleak picture in her talk, she said she still looks forward to working across the aisle with Republicans to push some of these research advancements forward, and told the research community she knows nothing will change on their end.
“Although I believe funding for research may have taken a turn for the worse, what I know won’t change is the commitment to excellence and pursuit of knowledge on this campus and the UW System,” Baldwin said.
Chemistry Department Chair James Weisshaar said he met with Baldwin in spring 2010, with the hope she would stay informed about science issues and their impact on UW. For the talk, he said the department simply asked her to come and she accepted.
Chemistry graduate student Jamie Wheeler said she thought Baldwin gave a good direction of where she wanted to go while understanding her limitations, and said she believes this is something UW students should pay attention to at a major research university.
“A huge amount of the research here is federally funded and these budgets have to be approved by Congress. Not only do these budgets determine how much research UW can do, but also determine the types of research we can do here,” Wheeler said.