The Congressional Middle Class Prosperity Project held a public forum July 27 entitled, “Building the Economy of the Future: Why Federal Investments in Science and Innovation Matter.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Ph.D. (R-Ga.), as well as academic scholars of science and technology policy, provided expert testimony on the importance of strengthening federal investments in scientific research to grow our economy and create jobs.
The Middle Class Prosperity Project is a collaborative effort by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), ranking member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Policy and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, aimed at focusing greater congressional and public attention on the challenges facing the middle class, and to formulate and implement concrete policy changes in order to address these challenges.
Gingrich called for substantial expansion of funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), arguing that diseases like Alzheimer’s present a liability of trillions of dollars, dwarfing the current level of investment in medical research. He proposed that it will be impossible to balance the federal budget again without a greater investment in NIH, although he also would consider alternative mechanisms, such as bond issues and prizes to stimulate funding, given the challenges of the appropriations process.
Gingrich further emphasized the importance of federal investments in research and development, noting examples from the nation’s history in which the government played a decisive role in emerging markets: scientific explorations of the Western frontier, establishing the patent office within the Constitution, telegraphy, aviation, and computer technology.
The expert panel included: Aaron Kesselheim, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Carol Espy-Wilson, Ph.D., University of Maryland; and Marian Mazzucato, Ph.D., University of Sussex, U.K.
The panelists spoke to the importance of publicly supported science in shaping drug development and other later stage technologies, and the entrepreneurial dimensions of academic science. Sen. Warren, lead sponsor of the Medical Innovation Act of 2015 (S.320) which proposes increasing NIH funding, focused panel discussion on the role of basic research. Rep. Cummings also expressed repeated concern over the high cost and limited availability of pharmaceuticals developed with federal funding.