Clinton pledges more money for science next year

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Science in the United States will enjoy healthy funding growth next year, following a decision by the Clinton administration to bow to pressure from scientific societies and their supporters in the Senate.

The administration has said it will ask for the money in its 1999 budget proposal, to be released on 2 February. Officials say the budget proposal will ask for increases of more than 7 per cent at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and 9 per cent at the National Science Foundation. There will be smaller increases above inflation at other science funding agencies.

The increases are part of a $10 billion investment package which the administration says is partially contingent on the ability of Congress to pass complex legislation to settle a major dispute between tobacco companies and state governments. But officials say that the package will be funded from other sources if the legislation fails, and science lobbyists are confident that money will be found for the increases in the event of such a failure.

Clinton's decision to boost science funding has come after a year of intensive lobbying by societies representing three million scientists and engineers, culminating in a December letter-writing campaign by members of the American Physical Society and the American Chemical Society.

Congress had expressed its own readiness to boost research spending. On 4 December, a letter from four key senators, including Pete Domenici (Republican, New Mexico), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, asked the administration to respond to their proposal to double research spending over ten years. The administration was able to make a positive response after budget projections released earlier this month enabled Clinton to announce that he would balance the entire budget in 1999 — three years earlier than anticipated.

The vanishing budget deficit puts Clinton in a good position to win approval for his investment plans. But the proposals for science spending are likely to have particularly strong support from both parties in the Congress. Lobbyists are optimistic that the increase for the NIH will be considerably larger than Clinton has proposed.

Last Saturday (10 January), Clinton devoted his weekly radio address to science and technology, pledging to support them in the budget and to expand on his plans for them in his State of the Union address at the end of this month. “Our nation was founded by men and women who firmly believed in the power of science to transform their world for the better,” he said.

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