House of Representatives
Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee
Committee on Appropriations
March 13, 2013
Rayburn Office Building
The witnesses at today’s hearing will all tell you about the importance of federal funding for basic biomedical research to cure a litany of diseases which impact Americans everyday and they’re absolutely correct. Without that basic research, treatments for these diseases will remain unattainable and millions of Americans will continue to suffer. It is through this basic research, which cannot be profitably funded by the private sector, that our biomedical knowledge is advanced. And with that increased knowledge, American companies can craft profitable solutions to the biomedical problems that continue to plague us.
Our life expectancy and the quality of our lives have increased dramatically as a result of federally funded biomedical research. In just a few short years, our biomedical knowledge has expanded exponentially which has led to the creation of new drugs and new therapeutic treatments that have saved the lives of countless Americans and people throughout the world. Diseases such as polio and tuberculosis which once ravaged this nation are all but eliminated. And the survival rate for some cancers has increased dramatically. Some childhood diseases that once proved fatal are now a rarity.
We all know that health care costs have risen dramatically over the past two decades. On average, Americans spend $8,000 a year on health care. But how much more would we need to spend without the benefits derived from America’s investment in basic biomedical research? The costs saved every time an HIV/AIDS patient is routinely treated outside of the hospital or a doctor can diagnose a patient with a simple scan instead of days of expensive inpatient hospital tests dramatically reduce the cost of health care. These now commonplace advances and so many more are a direct result of America’s investment in basic research.
America’s investment in basic biomedical research has paid off handsomely in terms of lives saved and health care costs reduced, but there is still much to be learned, many more diseases to conquer. Chronic diseases are an ever-increasing burden on America’s health care system. To meet that increased burden, we need answers and for that we need to invest in research.
But for all of the incredibly valid arguments that can be made about lives to be saved and improved, there is more to the story. Every dollar spent on basic research improves the economy. America’s investment in basic research during the 20th Century was the driving force that created the greatest economy that world has ever known. Over 70% of American jobs today owe their existence in some part to America’s past investment in basic scientific research. Without the wise investment of previous generations, the American economy would not lead the world today.
But that was yesterday. Today, shrinking resources threaten America’s current and future investment just when we need it the most. China’s investment in biomedical research has risen a dramatic 500% over the last decade. America’s investment during that time hasn’t kept pace with inflation. Today, American spending on Research & Development as a percentage of GDP which once led the world ranks a lowly 10th. With the cuts caused by sequestration factored in, America’s ranking may be even lower. Without continued investment in basic research, America won’t produce the jobs needed to fuel tomorrow’s economy. Those jobs will be produced on distant shores.
Today, we are watching as some of our nation’s best scientists, American scientists educated in American universities, are forced to leave the U.S. to work in foreign countries, countries like China, India, South Korea, Singapore and Saudi Arabia who value the benefits that basic research produces and are funding it. We are talking about more than a “brain drain,” we are watching as the fuel for our economic engine is siphoned off and moved off shore.
President Obama said in his State of the Union speech last month that for every dollar spent on mapping the human genome, the economy benefitted to the tune of $140. I believe he was understating the value of basic research. NIH funded basic research generates an economic return of $2.5 trillion each year. We need to expand our investment in basic biomedical research because of its promise of a better quality of life, yes, but equally so we need to expand our investment for the sake of our own economy.
We all recognize that America has a budget problem. No one can argue that our deficit must be reduced. But we will never eliminate the deficit solely through an increase in taxes. Any such attempt would decimate the economy and doom us to failure. And we will never eliminate the deficit solely through cuts in discretionary spending. The deficit is too large and, again, such an action would decimate the economy. The answer lies in economic growth.
At the end of the last century, a bi-partisan approach succeeded in balancing the budget. But it wasn’t solely through increased taxes or reduced spending. The largest single factor that allowed for the balanced budget was an increase in federal revenues due solely to the then booming economy. And that is the solution for us today.
The only way we will be able to eliminate the deficit is by growing the economy. And to do that, we need to invest in basic research to produce the knowledge that will become the foundation for future American businesses. If America increases its investment in basic research we can expect to see a surge in American economic activity that will result not only in prosperity for many Americans currently struggling, but also for our government. This surge holds the promise of reducing the need for government expenditures while at the same time increasing revenues, the key to eliminating future deficit spending.
In short, we need to reverse the cuts made to the NIH budget that resulted from last week’s sequestration and we need to double our nation’s spending on basic research as a percentage of GDP over the next decade. We can’t afford to allow other nations to pick up our mantle of progress and watch helplessly as our own economy, an economy that leads the world, stagnates.
We need to lead the world but it’s hard to lead when you’re falling behind.