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Why a Science Booster Couldn't Support the Stimulus Bill

No House Republican voted for the $787 billion stimulus package that President Barack Obama signed into law yesterday. But there's at least one who was tempted to do so by its massive support for university-based research. "It grieved me a bit to vote against it, and I'm absolutely delighted with the increased funding for science and technology," says Representative Vern Ehlers (R–MI), a former experimental physicist and senior member of the House Science Committee, where he's been a strong advocate for greater federal investment in science. "But on the whole, I thought the bill was not good public policy." (2005 photo credit, House of Representatives)

Ehlers takes many of his Republican colleagues to task for arguing that basic research doesn't belong in a stimulus package. "It's easily justifiable because it's the ultimate stimulus," Ehlers insists. "If you fund science correctly, you can most definitely improve the economic future of the country. And anybody who says otherwise just doesn't understand science and the value of scientific research, despite my years of trying to explain it to them." Although the mail has been running three-to-one in favor of his "no" vote, Ehlers says voters are willing to see if the stimulus spending has the desired effect on the economy before criticizing it. His constituents are much more concerned about the collapse of the U.S. auto industry, he adds.