December 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 9

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Election Recap:
What It Means for the Social Sciences

A focus on deficit reduction will lead to challenges to
federal support for the social sciences

Howard J. Silver, Consortium of Social Science Associations

The Republican recapture of the House of Representatives in November and the Washington policy community’s focus on deficit reduction will likely lead to significant challenges for social science funding in the next two years.

With the election, the Republicans retook the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Needing 39 seats to reclaim power, they won over 60 seats to give them a margin of 242 to 192 (one race is still too close to call). On the Senate side, Republicans picked up six seats to narrow the Democratic margin from 59-41 to 53-47.

The new majority in the House believes that the election provided a mandate to change the course of policy from extending the Bush-era tax cuts, repealing health care reform, and cutting federal spending. Another concern is the capacity of the new majority to attack science it doesn’t like from climate change to social and behavioral research.

Exacerbating the difficulties for the social sciences in the new 112th Congress is the loss of key supporters to retirement such as Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), who promoted and defended these sciences in committee and on the floor; Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chair of the House Appropriations Committee; and Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), who also defended our sciences on the House floor. The defeat of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) removes a strong champion of NIH from the Congress. The defeat of Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), who chaired the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, also shrinks the supporters of spending for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Census Bureau, and other agencies in that panel’s jurisdiction.

Reductions in NSF Support for Social Sciences

The shift in the House will bring new leaders to the chamber and a new chairman to the committees and subcommittees. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) ascends to the Speakership and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) will be the Majority Leader. In June 2009, Boehner and Cantor sent a letter to President Obama outlining their prescription for reducing the deficit. Among its recommendations was to "Refocus the National Science Foundation on Hard Sciences" (See the Vantage Point column in this issue).

Also in the Republican House playbook is a plan to take agency appropriations back to FY 2008 levels. This would result in a reduction of 18 percent in NSF funding and about nine percent in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Smaller agencies will also feel the sting of the proposal. The Bureau of Justice Statistics, which recently received significant increases to help revitalize the National Crime Victimization Survey, would see its budget go from $60 million back to $34 million.

The Republicans have also encouraged citizens to review NSF grants to determine which are unworthy. See to view this attempt to undermine peer review.

New Committee Leadership

Congress conducts much of its work in committees. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), who has served as Ranking Member as both a Democrat and Republican, will finally Chair the Science and Technology (S&T) Committee. This panel has jurisdiction over the NSF. Attempts to reauthorize the agency in the comprehensive America COMPETES legislation in the current Congress are likely to fail. A new version of America COMPETES is unlikely, but a separate NSF authorization bill may come up for consideration.

In announcing his desire to run the panel, Hall said, "We must also conduct strong oversight over this Administration in key areas including climate change, scientific integrity, energy research and development (R&D), cybersecurity, and science education." The S&T panel through its Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee will scrutinize many programs, among them will be grants awarded by NSF deemed questionable by the Committee. Expect some of them to be in the social and behavioral sciences.

The Appropriations Committees make the actual spending decisions for the agencies. As noted above, current chairman Rep. Obey (D-WI) has retired. The three key contenders to replace Obey, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), and Rep. Jack Kington (R-GA), all tried to demonstrate to the leadership during interviews for the position that they could cut more spending.

At the Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding for the National Science Foundation, Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Institute of Justice, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) is likely to take the reins.

At the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over NIH, CDC, the Department of Education, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with current Ranking Republican Todd Tiahrt (KS) leaving the Congress, the identity of the new chairman is uncertain. Maneuvering for other Subcommittee leadership positions will continue as the new majority figures out where to put people.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has issued a manifesto, "Roadmap for America’s Future," on how to reduce the federal budget, will lead the House Budget Committee. Rep. Jon Kline (R-MN) will take over the Education and Labor Committee. Kline will now have the lead in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) will become chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. This panel has jurisdiction over the Census Bureau as well as the ability to investigate the Obama Administration, which Issa has vowed to do with a vengeance. In the past, Issa has also challenged research grants awarded by the NIH, especially those investigating sexual behavior. Another concern is whether the Republican National Committee’s call to make the American Community Survey voluntary will get translated into legislation.

On the Senate side, there will be considerably fewer changes. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), fresh from his reelection victory, and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) lead the majority. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) lead the GOP faction.

As mentioned in this issue’s Vantage Point, the social science community will have to remain vigilant to challenges to its funding, research, and scientific worthiness. COSSA has a number of vehicles to help. The Coalition to Protect Research (CPR), co-chaired by COSSA, is a group of societies across all the sciences committed to protecting the integrity of peer review In addition, COSSA is working with the rest of the science community and the higher education community to demonstrate the importance of the social sciences to the future economic and security of the country. We hope you will help us continue to make that case. If you have examples of federally funded social science research or programs that have had a strong positive impact on society, please send them to

Howard J. Silver is the Executive Director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA), the advocacy group for the social and behavioral sciences in Washington. ASA is a proud member of COSSA. logosmall

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