Chairman Yarmuth Opening Statement at Virtual Hearing on the Federal Role in Fueling Research and Development

Jul 8, 2020

Washington, D.C.— Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s virtual hearing examining the importance of government investments in research and development (R&D) for our economic prosperity, quality of life, and ability to respond to emerging challenges. Remarks as prepared are below:

Since our last hearing, there have been more than 600,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 9,000 Americans have succumbed to the virus. Our economy is in free fall and unemployment is forecast to remain in the double-digits for the foreseeable future. Across the country, men, women, and children are still marching and advocating for a more just and peaceful future. While the state of our union remains uncertain, there is hope and answers yet to be discovered.

Reinvigorating our science and engineering capabilities can help our nation address the crises we face today, while better preparing our nation for the future. But despite its immense potential and history of success, the federal commitment to R&D has declined, while this Administration systematically suppresses, distorts, ignores, or thwarts scientific research in the name of false hope.

Last year, non-defense discretionary funding as a percent of GDP equaled its lowest level in 50 years – and government support for science and engineering has been one of the casualties. Federal R&D funding as a share of the economy has fallen from barely 1.9 percent in the mid-1960s to less than 0.7 percent in 2018, hindering advancements and slowing innovation. Not surprisingly, we are increasingly outranked by global competitors like China on international benchmarks of competitiveness. Now COVID-related disruptions and the Administration’s failure to take this public health threat seriously threaten to further derail U.S. innovation. Meanwhile, other nations are working to solve both the global health and economic crises by ramping up investments in R&D – spurring their recovery while planning for future advancements that will help them maintain their competitive edge in the global market.

Experts have stressed the importance of aggressive, responsible, and strategic investments to our recovery from COVID-19 and the economic fallout. Aside from the obvious – like developing vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 – federal R&D investments would also help spur an inclusive recovery, boost regional economies, and put Americans back to work.

Targeting federal investments to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the research and innovation ecosystem would allow us to fully tap into talents of all our citizens and would accelerate discovery while also increasing GDP per capita by as much as much as three to four percent.

Localized clusters of federally supported R&D in labs and universities can increase regional economic opportunities, creating jobs in the short- and long term. We have seen this work before: Evidence indicates that Recovery Act stimulus investments in R&D had a large and positive employment effect. 

This investment would attract - not displace - additional private investment while creating new opportunities across the country and fueling revolutionary solutions to pressing problems. It could spur entirely new industries that many established companies find too risky or cost-prohibitive to explore.

Recognizing the value of federal investments, Congress has begun the work to restore R&D funding.  The Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2019 added significantly to both defense and non-defense discretionary funds that would have otherwise been at austerity levels – and Congress has appropriated additional, supplemental resources for NIH and CDC as we fight the coronavirus pandemic. But Congress needs a committed partner in the White House to ensure scientific evidence, data, and research are once again incorporated meaningfully into federal policymaking.

Instead, the Trump Administration has routinely sabotaged the work of federal scientists and experts, prioritized politics over progress, buried data, and purposefully misled the public on issues ranging from climate change to the impact of chemical exposure on our children’s health.

And now this disdain for science has made America a global hotspot for coronavirus infection.

It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for this Administration to release data on the racial disparities of coronavirus infections. Scientists and experts should never be muzzled and prevented from sharing potentially life-saving information with the public.

The American people are being forced to withstand the tragic results of this Administration’s devotion to ignorance in favor of political points and division.

From putting a man on the moon and the invention of the internet to groundbreaking medical advancements, federal investments in R&D have fueled our economic growth, helped us tackle problems at home and abroad, and made America a beacon of innovation and discovery. Without a renewed commitment to science and innovation, we risk squandering our recovery and the opportunity to move our nation forward as a global force for good.

We will not be able to defeat this virus and foster an inclusive recovery if our communities don’t have the tools, knowledge, and freedom to do it. That will take investment – and an Administration that respects science and facts.

I look forward to this important discussion and I am eager to hear more from our witnesses.

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