The Republican Tax Bill Will Devastate Science

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Washington, D.C., December 22, 2017 | comments

In any household, how you budget is an indication of your priorities. And as many of us know, the earlier you start investing, the more it pays off. The same is true for the federal government.’The Republican tax bill passed by Congress this week is estimated to cost our country, at best, $1.5 trillion over the next ten years, and other estimates put that closer to $2.3 trillion. Trillion—that’s a figure with twelve zeros (000,000,000,000)—which are more zeros than most of us can comprehend. I’ve been doing a lot of math over the last couple weeks, and it turns out that amount of debt means $4,600 - $7,100 on the credit card for every man, woman and child in this country.

It means we’re adding at least $1.5 trillion to our country’s debt rather than investing in our infrastructure, education system, environmental protection, climate change, new technologies or human space exploration, among other things. And there are serious implications and opportunity costs for exploding the debt and cutting this revenue.

A successful country must invest early and often in scientific research. The problem this week is adding at least $1.5 trillion to the debt, which means we are hamstringing our ability to invest in the programs, researchers, and ideas to keep our country innovative and competitive in the future.

Our country was built on Americans’ desire to innovate, create and compete. This desire is particularly important in a forward-thinking state like Colorado, which has one of the highest per capita concentrations of federal science, research and engineering facilities in the nation and is one of the leading states in aerospace, weather forecasting and new research and technologies.

To further underscore the math, the national lab system is the heart of scientific R&D, the envy of the world, and the catalyst behind many innovations and new technologies. My district is home to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, the world’s premier lab for renewable energy and energy efficiency which celebrated its 40thanniversary this year.  NREL had an annual budget last year of about $458 million. For $1.5 trillion, NREL could continue discovering new materials and new technologies to improve the way we power our nation for another 3,275 years. 

We can also calculate some numbers for the principle funder of NREL—the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).  EERE is charged with developing a clean and resilient energy economy and had a budget of about $2 billion this year. President Trump’s Budget Request for next year only included $636 million for EERE, a dramatic 70% cut. One can only imagine how much next year’s budget will propose with at least $1.5 trillion less planned for our coffers.  Rather than giving tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, we could secure our investment in clean energy at this year’s levels for the next 750 years. For $1.5 trillion, we could even increase our investment at EERE and NREL to speed up innovation and development to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and generate thousands of jobs in the process.

One of my top priorities in Congress is to get our astronauts to Mars by 2033. Sixteen years from now, Earth and Mars will be aligned for what could be the most significant and inspirational journey in human history.  The planets orbit and alignment in the year 2033 provide an optimal scenario to get our astronauts to Mars and back safely to Earth.  Over the next 16 years, I’ve heard estimates showing this mission could cost about $200 billion. If we invested this $1.5 trillion into human spaceflight, we could take about seven trips to Mars—even more when you factor the reduced costs for return trips. If we wanted to, we could also entirely fund the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for about 75 years with the $1.5 trillion. 

These are the decisions Congressional Republicans made this week without one Democratic vote.  This tax bill will have consequences for years to come because we might not have the revenue we need to fund our critical science agencies. 

I have great faith in our nation’s scientists and engineers.  I have seen what we can accomplish when we put the best and brightest in a room together and give them the resources they need to solve tough scientific, engineering and mathematical problems to better our society.  We can make substantial scientific progress if we choose to make it a priority. I will continue to fight for continued investments in these and other critical programs to ensure the United States maintains our global scientific leadership. Our country is too good to forsake a brighter future for everyone in the name of tax cuts for the few at the top. 


Ed Perlmutter

    Democrat Ed Perlmutter is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Colorado's 7th congressional district, serving since 2007. He sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

    Content originally published by the Scientific American on December 22, 2017.
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