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Fine Whine at the Federal Trough

Monday September 16th, 2013   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 8:45am PDT   •  

nih-logo_200As this column has noted, the federal government of the United States is a spending machine, much of it on autopilot. But the economic downturn of recent years has forced spending cuts known as “sequestration.” That has made the federal trough a noisy place, but also informative. Philip Joyce, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, claims the cuts are “eating away little by little at the infrastructure and effectiveness of government.” And for the white-coat brigade, it’s a matter of life and death.

The federal government has cut funding for some research at the Center for Computational Biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. One researcher claims that “less science is getting done” and “that means cures won’t emerge. Five years from now, when your aunt gets cancer and you can’t do anything for her, people won’t stop and think, ‘Jesus, if we only hadn’t had the sequester!’” The researcher did not explain why previous billions in previous federal funding had failed to produce a cure for cancer or even the common cold.

The federal National Institutes of Health has a budget in the range of $30 billion and the National Cancer Institute $5 billion. That spending failed to produce the cures, but some lobbyists claim the problem is the sequester. According to Sue Nelson, Vice President of Federal Advocacy for the American Heart Association, “New treatments won’t be there for future generations if we continue down this path. These cuts will stall economic growth, set back innovation, and prevent us improving the health of all Americans.”

This reflects the view that all good things – even our health and economic growth – proceed from the federal government. Not so, and therefore they don’t stand in dire peril at the slightest reduction in federal spending. Legislators have good reason to ignore the whining, and taxpayers should remain skeptical whenever government promises life-saving cures.

For example, Californians were promised such cures through $3 billion in bond money for embryonic stem cell research conducted by a new state agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Nearly a decade later, most of the money has been spent, but a ballpark figure for the life-saving cures and therapies is zero. Governments usually promise more than they can deliver and remain ineffective even when spending excessively.

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September 2013