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Washington News

Monday, November 19, 2012 - 12:01

Telling our story has become more and more important as we begin to peer over the fiscal cliff.  We must tell our story on the importance of investing in the astronomical sciences or we risk critical losses in funding.  Contact policy makers and your members of Congress to tell your story on how the astronomical sciences are important to you and to the nation. 

Bloomberg Brief says, “The term ‘fiscal cliff’ is shorthand to describe the mix of $607 billion in U.S. taxes and spending that are scheduled to expire on 31 December 2012. The mix of tax and spending cuts include the Bush era tax cuts, the 2010 Obama tax holiday, partial expensing of investments and the onset of tax provisions to support the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act. Accompanying theses tax measures are spending changes that include the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits, a scheduled reduction in Medicare payment rates, and the start of what is referred to as “automatic sequestration” or across-the-board cuts in discretionary and defense spending under the 2011 Budget Control act.”

Members of Congress will not return to Washington, DC until after the election, on 6 November, and policy on the fiscal cliff is unlikely to be fully addressed during the lame duck session. Politico asked House Speaker John Boenher about the prospects for a large-scale deficit deal in November and December. He said, “I think that’s difficult to do.  You know, and frankly, I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do—have a lot of retiring members and defeated members voting on really big bills. Eh, probably not the appropriate way to handle the lame duck.”

The White House Office of Management & Budget released a report that predicts the amount of across-the-board cuts if Congress does not stop sequestration by the 2 January 2013 deadline.  NASA’s $17,770 million budget may be cut $1,455 million—about a third of the Science Mission Directorate, which includes Planetary Science, Astrophysics, Heliophysics, and the James Webb Space Telescope.  NSF’s $7,033 million budget may be cut $586 million—over double the budget for the Astronomy Division at $234.55 million. 

Xi Jinping, Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, gave a speech on 22 August at the recent International Astronomical Union in Beijing and told a story about how the astronomical sciences are important to his country and human civilization, “Astronomy, as the science to explore the universe, is one of the most important and the most active scientific frontiers that has pushed forward natural sciences and technology, and led to the advances of modern society...Every major discovery in astronomy has deepened our understanding of the mysterious universe, every significant achievement in astronomy has enriched our knowledge repository, and every breakthrough in the cross-disciplinary research between astronomy and other sciences has exerted both immediate and far-reaching impacts on fundamental science and even human civilization.”
The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde articulated the importance of space science and exploration by telling the story of Neil Armstrong’s life at his Memorial Service at the Washington National Cathedral on 13 September, “Space exploration was for him but one way we human beings can marshal the best of who we are and learn the kind of cooperation that will save us from ourselves. He experienced the world coming together through space exploration.”

Bess Evans, White House Policy Analyst, is asking for our stories.  She believes that sharing our stories is what is needed to help prevent our country from tumbling over the fiscal cliff.  You can share your story with her at Specifically, how federal funding for your research has helped you educate students, enhance our understanding of the universe and bring scientific results to the public…bonus points for all three components in one story!

Tell your member of Congress your story and how important astronomy is to the nation.  You can find contact information on your Senators and Representatives using your zip-code at the Contacting Congress webpage.

Bethany R. Johns
Science Policy Manager
The Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies (ACSESS)