This package is unstimulated

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Feb. 6 2009 10:42 AM

This package is unstimulated

Right now -- literally, today -- Congress is trying to figure out what to do with a nearly trillion-dollar economic stimulus package President Obama has submitted. There seems to be a lot of unclear calls to action online due to some severe cuts in the package, so I want to try to make this more clear.

First-- the Republicans are saying this is a spending bill, not a stimulus package. That's basically yet another conservative load of baloney: the spending is going toward stimulating the economy. The bill has short-term and long-term goals in it, so that we can get things rolling quickly, yet be able to sustain the events once the initial push is over. A stimulus needs inertia, or else it grinds to a halt.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Senate Democrats are working with moderate Republicans to compromise (from what I have read and seen about this current package, the conservative Republicans don't appear willing to compromise, only to cut) -- though the bill passed the House with not a single Republican voting for it; I wonder if Obama understands what that means to future packages he proposes.

One compromise that was reported by the AP -- Talking Points Memo has the specifics -- is an $88 billion dollar cut to the original package. These are substantial slashes to the budget, including $750M from NASA (a 50% reduction), $427M from NOAA (a 34% cut), $100M from the Department of Energy office of science (a 100% cut), and $1.4B from NSF, again, a 100% reduction. In other words, DOE science and the NSF are being zeroed out of this bill.

I want to be clear: these are not actually cuts to the budgets of these groups! The original package calls for increased spending on them, so what these cuts mean is that the agencies won't get as much of an increase, or, in the case of the DOE OS and NSF, any increase at all.

Worst case scenario is that these programs get cut, and nothing really has changed; they still get the same money they did before this package was proposed. The problem is that with the economy the way it is, we do need to do something to make sure our country continues running. The money that goes to NASA, for example, is to the Exploration directorate, which includes going to the Moon and living in space. The money spent by Congress on these programs is invested, not wasted. And studies show that money spent on NASA is returned multiplied several times. In other words, we make money on NASA.

And the National Science Foundation sponsors a huge amount of basic scientific research across the board, from students up to full-time researchers. Investing that money is directly investing in the future of the United States. I wonder about the cognitive dissonance necessary to rail against foreign countries outpacing us, yet trying to cut science funding.

Bottom line: increased spending in these programs is a good thing. It helps people keep their jobs, it produces things we need, and in the long run makes money for the country. I'm calling my senators right now. How about you?