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Action Alert: Tell the Budget Conference Committee to End the Sequester and Reinvest in Discretionary Programs

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 10:27

Summary

This Action Alert requests that AAS members email or call their representatives in Congress to end the budget sequester and support strong investments in basic research.

Instructions on whom to contact and how to do so are provided along with sample communications.

Background

A budget conference committee between the House of Representatives and Senate is currently in session discussing a potential budget deal. We have recently heard from the House Majority Leader’s staff that now is the time to raise our voices to support ending the sequester and reinvesting in crucial discretionary programs like those in basic research. The across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration have already slashed more than $0.5 billion from the research budgets of NASA, NSF, and the Department of Energy Office of Science; more cuts are planned for 2014 and beyond.

Any budget compromise from the committee will set broad spending levels, primarily determining the distribution between discretionary and mandatory spending (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.). Despite this high-level focus, the outcome of this process will drive the magnitude of basic research investments. Why? Empirically, federal investment in research & development (R&D) has been an approximately fixed fraction of the discretionary budget since the Apollo era. However, there has been a decades-long, steady decline in discretionary spending as a fraction of the total federal budget and the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If Congress and the President do not replace the sequester with revenue increases and/or cuts on the mandatory side of the budget, we are locked in for more of the same downward trend in discretionary spending, and R&D along with it, for years and years to come. Right now, the clearest message we can send (alongside many partners) is that investments in discretionary programs like basic research, far from being drivers of our debt, are crucial for producing the long-term economic growth that will help us address our debt. Further, these investments are critical for maintaining our global competitiveness in an increasingly advanced global marketplace. As other countries around the world scale up their investment in R&D, we must ensure that we do not fall behind. 

In the next week, we urge you to contact your members of Congress. The conference committee is scheduled to report back by December 13th, at which point the appropriations committees will make the finer-grained decisions that will directly set spending levels for the astronomical sciences.

What To Do

Below is a template email for you to customize and send to your representatives using their contact forms; you can find your representatives’ contact information with our Contacting Congress webform

  1. Get your Zip+4 if you don’t have it (for email contact forms).
  2. Find your representatives' contact information.
  3. Check if any of your representatives are on the budget conference committee, then edit email or call scripts accordingly.
  4. Either…
    1. customize the sample email below and submit via the contact forms linked from your Contacting Congress results, or
    2. customize the relevant sample phone script below and call each of your representatives using the phone numbers listed in your Contacting Congress results.

It is crucial that you customize your message. According to the Congress Foundation’s 2011 study on how Congress members respond to communications, individualized messages and phone calls are about an order of magnitude more influential than form emails (see their fig. 2). 

You may also wish to tweet to your representatives. Generally, members will have links on their websites if they are active on Twitter. When you tweet, we recommend you use the hashtags #NoMoreCuts and/or #InvestInWhatWorks to tie into existing campaigns by local coalitions and membership organizations with similar goals.

Our communications focus is on discretionary spending for basic research as a whole, as the current congressional action is focused on top-line budget numbers. Any budget deal will specify funding in broad categories known as “budget functions.” The budget function that ultimately flows down to funding for almost all of the astronomical sciences is budget function 250. We are in this together with every other discipline and in fact with all discretionary spending. Now is not the time to be advocating for just our discipline.

Thank you for your time.


Budget Conference Committee Members (Conferees)

The budget conference committee convened as part of the deal to end the government shutdown in mid-October. They are tasked with reconciling the disparate budget resolutions passed by the House and Senate Budget Committees led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R, WI-1) and Sen. Patty Murray (D, WA), respectively. The budgets are $90 billion apart on discretionary spending, with the Democrat-led Senate setting higher spending levels than the Republican-led House.

House Republicans (Majority): 
Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1), Chair of House Budget Committee
Rep. Tom Cole (OK-4)
Rep. Tom Price (GA-6)
Rep. Diane Black (TN-6)

House Democrats (Minority):
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-8), Ranking Member of House Budget Committee
Rep. James Clyburn (SC-6)
Rep. Nita Lowey (NY-17)

Senate Republicans (Minority):
Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL), Ranking Member of Senate Budget Committee
Sen. Charles Grassley (IA)
Sen. Mike Enzi (WY)
Sen. Mike Crapo (ID)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC)
Sen. Rob Portman (OH)
Sen. Pat Toomey (PA)
Sen. Ron Johnson (WI)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (NH)
Sen. Roger Wicker (MS)

From Senate Democratic Caucus (Majority): 
Sen. Patty Murray (WA), Chair of Senate Budget Committee
Sen. Ron Wyden (OR)
Sen. Bill Nelson (FL)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Sen. Mark Warner (VA)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)
Sen. Chris Coons (DE)
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI)
Sen. Tim Kaine (VA)
Sen. Angus King (ME)


Draft AAS Member Email to Representative

[EDIT BEFORE SENDING]

Dear Senator/Representative X,

My name is [YOUR NAME], and I am an [astronomer / astrophysicist / planetary scientist / heliophysicist] from [City, State] and a constituent of [Sen/Rep. Congressperson]. I work at [Institution] in [City, State]. 

As the budget conference committee works toward a compromise by December 13th, I am writing to ask that you [and your fellow budget conferees/ urge your colleagues on the conference committee to] find a balanced substitute for the sequester that reinvests in the discretionary spending programs which have been disproportionally cut over the past several years. Important discretionary investments in basic research (Budget Function 250) underpin our future economic success and global competitiveness.

Investments in basic research lead to exciting new discoveries, [like the recent revelation that there are likely billions of other habitable worlds in our galaxy.] They also spur innovations whose effects are felt throughout society and for decades into the future. I [urge you and your fellow budget conferees/ ask that you urge your colleagues on the conference committee] to protect these investments as you make crucial decisions about how to slow the growth of our national debt.

[Personalized/local story about the positive impact of federal investment in research. E.g., As a research astronomer, I have federal funding through the National Science Foundation. In addition to enabling my research on the constant stream of particles from the Sun we call the solar wind, this grant provides resources for me to visit some of the local schools in our district to get kids excited about science.

If possible, please also briefly explain what have been or will be the impacts of continued cuts to your research and by extension our global technological competiveness?]

If you have any questions about the role of basic research or if I can be of any further help to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to help you in whatever way I can.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jane Q. Astronomer


Sample Phone Call to Budget Conferee

STAFFER: Hello, Senator Murray's office, can I help you?

AAS MEMBER: Yes, I would like to speak with a staffer responsible for science and technology issues.

STAFFER: OK, I will see if she is in right now. <pause> She can speak with you now [note; you may get voice mail, leave same message as the next bit of conversation]

SCI. STAFFER: Hello, I'm [staff name] and I'm responsible for science issues... How can I help you?

AAS MEMBER: Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME] and I am an [astronomer / astrophysicist / planetary scientist / heliophysicist] and a constituent of Senator Murray’s. I am calling to ask that the Senator support a balanced substitute for the sequester that reinvests in the discretionary spending programs which have been disproportionally cut over the past several years. Important discretionary investments in basic research underpin our future economic success and global competitiveness.

Investments in basic research lead to exciting new discoveries, [like the recent revelation that there are likely billions of other habitable worlds in our galaxy.] They also spur innovations whose effects are felt throughout society and for decades into the future.

I would like to urge the Senator to protect these investments as she and her colleagues on the budget conference committee work toward a compromise solution.

SCI. STAFFER: Thank you for your message, I'll let the Senator know your point of view.

AAS MEMBER: Thanks so much. If I can ever be of help to Senator Murray, please let me know. I am happy to help however I can.


Sample Phone Call to Member NOT on Conference Committee:

STAFFER: Hello, Congressman Hurt’s office, can I help you?

AAS MEMBER: Yes, I would like to speak with a staffer about science issues.

STAFFER: OK, I will see if he is in right now. <pause> He can speak with you now [note; you may get voice mail, leave same message as the next bit of conversation] 

SCI. STAFFER: Hello, I'm [staff name] and I'm responsible for science issues... How can I help you? 

AAS MEMBER: Hi, my name is [YOUR NAME], and I am an [astronomer / astrophysicist / planetary scientist / heliophysicist] and a constituent of Congressman Hurt’s. I am calling to ask that the Congressman contact his colleagues on the budget conference committee and urge them to support a balanced substitute for the sequester that reinvests in the discretionary spending programs which have been disproportionally cut over the past several years. Important discretionary investments in basic research underpin our future economic success and global competitiveness.

Investments in basic research lead to exciting new discoveries, [like the recent revelation that there are likely billions of other habitable worlds in our galaxy.] They also spur innovations whose effects are felt throughout society and for decades into the future.

I would like to ask the Congressman to contact his colleagues on the budget conference committee and urge them to protect these investments as they work toward a compromise solution.

SCI. STAFFER: Thank you for your message, I'll let the Congressman know your point of view. 

AAS MEMBER: Thanks so much. If I can ever be of help to Congressman Hurt, please let me know. I am happy to help however I can.


Sample Tweets

.@pattymurray End the #sequester and #InvestInWhatWorks. Maintain strong basic research investments for our future. #NoMoreCuts

.@RepRonBarber tell the budget conf cmte to end the #sequester and #InvestInWhatWorks by strengthening our investments in basic research.

Joshua H. Shiode
John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow
American Astronomical Society
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