Disappointed in Congress

I am really disappointed in the inability and/or unwillingness of Congress to act on extensions of the Bush-era tax cuts and other items. This morning’s New York Times had an article about how companies are fearful about a “fiscal cliff” and are reducing orders and making more conservative spending decisions, because they are worried that Congress will not act. It is bad for the country. And if we end up with sequestration, it could have a devastating effect on the pace of research in the U.S. and the health of academic research. Research dollars create jobs so the knock-on effects could be even greater for the economy as a whole. The rest of us have to compromise to get what we want. Why can’t Congress?
Then, at the same time that they are not acting on these urgent issues, Congress could well pass legislation (Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, H.R. 733 and S.362) that would change the way the National Cancer Institute (NCI) funds pancreatic research, setting a very bad precedent. That, too, could have terrible consequences. Having worked at the NCI, I know it well. The peer-review system works on balance, and NCI leaders are doing an excellent job of managing a very difficult budget situation. It would be a mistake to single out pancreatic cancer research, as important as it is, to get special treatment — in this case, an authorization of about $393 million for pancreatic cancer over five years (estimates for total funding vary somewhat). Among other elements of proposed legislation: a committee appointed by the Secretary of HHS would oversee prioritization and award of NIH research grants relating to pancreatic cancer.
For anyone who gets The Cancer Letter, Paul Goldberg and his team have done a great job of covering the issue.
I argue against earmarks even though I have become very concerned about the inadequate pace of another cancer for which progress has been too slow and for which most prognoses are devastating — brain cancer, the cancer that took my mother’s life in May, less than one month after diagnosis. I want to see more high-quality research funded so people do not die terrible deaths from these cancers that are really orphan diseases. But still, we should not ask for special earmarks. That’s not the way to make good science decisions. Earmarks cause interest groups to compete with one another rather than letting ideas and proposals drive competition. Let peer-review work. Get researchers excited about the importance of pancreatic cancers. Encourage them with incentives, if needed. But don’t create a separate funding process for one cancer.
I’m disgusted. I think I’ll go watch the Olympics. Now, there’s something to get one excited!
Happy Monday.

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