THE BLOG

Avoiding a Fiscal Calamity

12/03/2012 05:39 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2013

Recently, the Bipartisan Policy Center held its annual summit at Tulane University. Hosted by James Carville and Mary Matalin, and attended by both Republican and Democratic power brokers, the summit is an opportunity to advance bipartisan solutions to issues facing our country in the areas of health care, energy, national security, transportation and the economy.

Attending the Summit, I couldn't help but wonder if such bipartisan cooperation, at least at the federal level, was a bygone practice doomed to the dustbin of history -- a dream for Americans who long to see our country reaffirm and strengthen its position of leadership in the world.

Innovation, technological advancements, unparalleled competitiveness, and the resulting economic prosperity were essential to making the U.S. the country it is today. But partisan politics in Washington D.C. weakens our ability to retain these characteristics and threatens the very future for generations to come. At the heart of this impasse is the inability of our leaders to agree on ways to reduce the federal deficit and manage our debt without eviscerating necessary government spending.

Failure to avert the pending fiscal cliff, including the calamitous budget tool of sequestration, by Jan. 2, 2013, could start us down a potentially disastrous economic road. Instead of a judicious program of cutbacks, chosen and crafted with bipartisan support, sequestration would force automatic, drastic reductions in discretionary spending across the federal government, including defense, education, science, and social service programs. These cuts would be counterproductive to the short and long-term interests of our country, thwarting our safety and security, our innovation and growth -- the very goals the U.S. must achieve to remain strong and competitive.

In fact, the information Technology and Innovation Foundation estimates that our nation's Gross Domestic Product will fall short by hundreds of billions of dollars over a nine-year period if we implement the cuts to research spending that the sequester requires. This is not a surprise. Since World War II, approximately half of the economic growth in the U.S. is attributed to innovation born out of scientific and technological discovery, much of which is done on university campuses. Reductions in federally-funded research programs and financial aid will curtail the creation of new knowledge and the development of human capital so necessary for the advancement of society.

At Tulane University, one of the largest private employers in Louisiana, our scientists and engineers have worked to develop treatments for cancer, diabetes, infertility, and autoimmune disorders. We have developed materials that can be used to clean up contaminated ground water, and have designed improved, environmentally safe dispersants to be used in the event of major oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico or around the world. Dr. John Clements of the Tulane School of Medicine, with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is working to develop a delivery system for vaccines that eliminates the use of needles in order to improve children's health in developing countries. Nobel Prize winner Dr. Andrew Schally, also an NIH-funded researcher, has developed a drug, now approved in more than 90 countries, to treat hormone-sensitive prostate and breast cancers. The Tulane School of Architecture has used funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a catalyst to develop green building technologies and urban agriculture programs, which have the potential for application in countries across the globe.

These projects, along with others at universities in Louisiana and across the country, have a profound impact not only on the competitiveness of the U.S., but on the quality of our lives. Sequestration and a continuing budget impasse jeopardize all of this work and put America's future at risk.

Likewise, federal aid for students must remain a top priority for Congress and the president. All Americans, regardless of income, deserve the opportunity to attend college, to develop the skills necessary to succeed, and to find meaningful and stable jobs. Educated workers are vital to long-term economic growth.

While our nation's long-term fiscal challenges require decisive action, such action cannot be at the expense of the innovation that has driven our nation's economic success for generations. Federal investments in scientific research and education must be not only maintained but increased, so that our nation can reap the returns in future years. Hopefully, Congress and the President can find balanced, bipartisan solutions to avoid the fiscal cliff. Adopting the collaborative approach to problem-solving advocated by the Bipartisan Policy Center would be a laudable and welcome start, opening up the prospect for a stability and growth.