Political Science at NSF Weathers Senate Attack

Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) finally got his long-awaited roll-call vote last night to strip out political science research from the 2010 budget of the National Science Foundation. And while his amendment was soundly defeated, 36 to 62, it wasn't strictly a party-line vote. Five moderate Democrats—Senators Max Baucus of Montana, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Jim Webb of Virginia—apparently agree with Coburn's argument that NSF, with a budget of $6.9 billion, is "wasting" federal dollars by spending $9 million a year to support research in the field.

"I have no way to explain it," says Michael Brintnall, executive director of the American Political Science Association, which has been following the issue closely. "We'd never heard that they had any concerns about funding this type of research."

The amendment came as the Senate cleared a $65-billion spending bill that funds multiple agencies, including NSF, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The next step is to resolve differences between its version and the one passed this summer by the House of Representatives. Congress has completed work on only four of 12 spending bills for the fiscal year that began on 1 October. The rest of the government is covered by a continuing resolution, holding spending at 2009 levels, that expires on 18 December.