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Trump is virtually silent on science in speech to Congress

President's address touches on funding and immigration, but not research

by Andrea Widener
March 1, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 10

Credit: Newscom
Trump gives his first address to Congress.
Donald Trump standing at a podium gesturing with his hands
Credit: Newscom
Trump gives his first address to Congress.

In his first address to Congress, President Donald J. Trump echoed many of the themes from his campaign: fighting terrorism, combatting crime, creating American jobs, repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Although science was barely mentioned in the prime-time speech, it did provide hints about how his Administration will approach some topics that are important to the chemical enterprise.

Likely the most vital is the federal budget. Trump pledged “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” The resulting boost in military funding would be matched with an equal cut in the nondefense budget, which includes almost all basic research spending.

Earlier in the week, an Administration official suggested that cut could amount to 10%. Although that might not be distributed equally across science agencies—EPA and State Department were singled out to receive larger reductions—it still struck fear among scientists and educators.

“We are deeply concerned that the massive proposed funding increase in one sector of our economy would result in draconian cuts to other sectors like public higher education—a thread of excellence and necessity in our country’s economic and social fabric,” the American Association of State Colleges & Universities said.

In his speech, Trump proposed getting rid of sequestration, a 10-year plan of budget cuts to both nondefense and defense spending approved in 2011 that was designed to reduce the national deficit. Congress would have to approve both killing sequestration and the budget itself.

That’s also the case for another proposal Trump made: a new immigration system that focuses on highly skilled immigrants. The system would “save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families—including immigrant families—enter the middle class,” he suggested. Immigrant chemists and U.S. chemical companies might benefit from such a merit-based immigration system.

Trump also touched on other topics of interest to the chemical enterprise. For example, he claimed victory in his Administration’s choice to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which the U.S. chemical industry strongly supported. He also pushed for a renewed era for U.S. manufacturing.

In addition, Trump touted his efforts to reduce federal regulations, including a proposal that would eliminate two rules for every one that is implemented. He singled out FDA’s “slow and burdensome” drug approval process for change.

The only partial reference to research came toward the end of the speech. Trump recalled the development of the telephone, telegraph, and typewriter and suggested that he wants the U.S. to cure illnesses and put “American footprints on distant worlds.”



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