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Senators, Societies Back R&D Doubling

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Leaders of dozens of scientific societies and three senators crowded into a small room in the Capitol yesterday afternoon to propose doubling federal spending on civilian R&D over the next decade. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), along with Budget Committee Chair Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), told reporters they are confident that their National Research Investment Act of 1998 will win support from more than half the Senate next year.

But the senators acknowledged that the bill is only a first step toward winning additional dollars, which would have to come from the annual appropriations battle. Lieberman called the plan to boost spending from $34 billion in 1998 to $68 billion in 2008 a "statement of a goal," while Gramm declined to say which programs he would like to see cut in order to find the extra money. House lawmakers, meanwhile, are unlikely to offer similar legislation in the near future, congressional sources say.

Although the bill may not produce immediate dollars, science community leaders praise the effort for at least bringing together the 106 science, engineering, mathematics, and biomedical organizations that back the legislation. "We believe that this coalition is unprecedented in the number of organization presidents who have come together to endorse a common position," said Ronald Breslow, past president of the American Chemical Society. That unity, they add, could prove useful in lobbying for more R&D funding.