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Pelosi: Science first for economic recovery

Blogging on EARTH

According to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, there are four words to describe the economic recovery package that Congress will consider this spring: “science, science, science and science.” Pelosi told National Public Radio today that science has to be first and foremost in this bill: “[We need] the science, technology and engineering to build the infrastructure for the future, the science for the innovation to keep us competitive and number one in the world markets,” she said.

This will undoubtedly come as welcome news to scientists, including the 49 Nobel Laureates and other scientific leaders and university presidents who recently sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama urging increased funding for scientific research and innovation as part of Obama’s economic stimulus package.

Obama has said that he wants Congress to act quickly to increase spending, and is considering a stimulus package for the next two years that includes both tax cuts for the middle and lower classes and investments. Tax cuts are needed, Pelosi said, but “there is no question that investments create jobs faster and bring a bigger bang for the buck.” Those investments include physical infrastructure — such as mass transit, bridges, roads and green technology — and “the human infrastructure of our country,” health and education. Furthermore, Pelosi said, “this is not our grandfather’s public works program of the ‘30s; you will not be able to identify any project in this economic recovery package. There will be no earmarks.” Instead, “we are going with proposals that we have in general, for infrastructure, for innovation, for healthcare and for energy independence — and they really are all related,” she said.

On Jan. 7, MIT’s Maria Zuber, a geophysicist and head of the school’s Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences department, testified before the House Steering and Policy Committee (chaired by Speaker Pelosi) that funding for research and education in science and technology should be a major priority in the economic recovery package. Thankfully, Zuber says, it looks like Congress is hearing the message.

“There was a Nobel Prize in economics given to an MIT faculty member, Robert Solow, for his demonstration of the fact that technological and related innovations are the most significant determinant in economic growth,” Zuber says. “So the argument that I and another colleague made [to Congress] was that we agree that it’s extremely important make an immediate infusion of resources into the economy now to stimulate spending, to allow borrowing and to create jobs.” To compensate for jobs already lost, she says, “you have to create new markets for jobs, and that requires innovation, and that requires science and technology.”

Pelosi has said she wants this economic recovery package passed by the Presidents Day recess in mid-February. The president and agencies’ budgets will be released in early February.

Megan Sever
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 - 11:30