During last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama called on policymakers to find a solution to the federal budget debate before sequestration—or widespread and indiscriminate cuts to all federal programs—takes place next month. “These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, and energy, and medical research,” he said, adding, “They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as the sequester, are a really bad idea.”
The GHTC and others in the global health and research communities have long stressed the importance of preventing sequestration in order to stop the devastating cuts it would have on US programs that—among other lifesaving activities—are helping to develop and deliver innovative vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other tools to benefit global public health.
Sequestration would not only hinder efforts to save lives and improve health around the world. As President Obama emphasized last week, US investments in research also contribute to a wide range of domestic benefits—such as job creation and economic growth—that would be diminished by sequestration. “Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation,” Obama said during his address. “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. We need to make those investments.”
Also last week, several federal agencies released new details about the impact of sequestration on their budgets and programs. For instance, in a letter to Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the harmful effects of sequestration on agencies within HHS that “protect the health and enhance the well-being of all Americans.”
As just one example, medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the largest supporter of global health research in the world—would be severely hindered by sequestration. Cuts to the NIH would delay progress on the treatment and prevention of debilitating conditions that affect people both at home and abroad. “In general, NIH grant funding within states … will likely be reduced due to both reductions to existing grants and fewer new grants,” Sebelius wrote. “We expect that some existing research projects could be difficult to pursue at reduced levels and some new research could be postponed as NIH would make hundreds fewer awards. … With each research award supporting up to seven research positions, several thousand research positions across the nation could be eliminated.”
Congress also came out with its own estimates on the level of federal budget cuts that would result from sequestration. Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee released a report that finds sequestration would have far-reaching consequences for domestic growth and employment. Sequestration could slow US economic growth by half in 2013 and cut more than 2.14 million domestic jobs.
Additionally, the report outlines the potential effects of sequestration on agencies that fund global health and research programs. “A sequester would force cuts to global health and development funding of over $432 million, severely hindering the United States government from taking advantage of opportunities to dramatically change the face of disease and, in some cases, permanently reduce suffering,” the report claims. It adds that sequestration would cut the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) global health budget by $139 million. Cuts to USAID’s global health programs would hinder progress in the development of game-changing new technologies, such as research to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine.
The report also finds that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration would be cut by $350 million and $120 million, respectively. The NIH would be cut by $1.6 billion under sequestration.
Last week saw a chorus of voices from across the US government, demanding that policymakers do everything they can to ensure that sequestration does not take place. Such widespread cuts would severely hinder US programs that are finding more effective tools to prevent and treat disease worldwide. These programs are also creating jobs and spurring the economy at home. It’s critical that policymakers come up with a federal budget plan that not only prevents sequestration, but also protects US investments in global health research and other successful programs.
Kim Lufkin is the GHTC’s communications officer