News Local/State

Durbin Promotes Yearly Automatic Funding Increases For Science Research

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois talking about legislation to increase federal research dollars at a news conference at the University of Illinois. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin wants the federal government to increase funding for scientific research by five percent each year.

Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, came to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus Friday to promote three pieces of legislation, the American Cures Act (HR 2401), the America Grows Act (S 2458) and the American Innovation Act (S 1249) .

The three bills would create mandatory funds to finance research and development in the fields of medical, agricultural and technological research. The funding would increase by five percent each year.

“Five percent real growth every single year without fail,” said Durbin. “That, to me, is going to make a dramatic difference.”

Durbin said boosting the U.S. commitment to science research was a way to “not just solve the problems of the world, but to make sure that the Unites States is still in the race, when it comes to finding the things that are going to make a difference in our future.”

Durbin’s comments came at a news conference at the university’s Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, flanked by Urbana campus chancellor Robert Jones, and administrators at U of I colleges that could benefit from the proposed increases in research funding. They included College of ACES Dean Kimberlee Kidwell, Cancer Center at Illinois director Rohit Bhargava and Grainger College of Engineering Associate Dean for Research Harley Johnson. They outlined current research at the university, including aerospace programs devoted to improved supersonic flight and fully electric aircraft, and developing new engineering techniques to help in areas as diverse as farming and cancer treatments and developing fully electric aircraft.

Durbin wants to reverse what he says is a half-century decline in federal funding for science research. He said that during the 1960’s, the U.S. invested 17% of its discretionary budget on research and development, but uses only nine percent of that budget on R & D presently. In contrast, he says China’s share of its gross domestic product spend on R & D has increased sharply since the early 2000’s, and could soon surpass the U.S. if the trend continues. 

Durbin said he has hopes of passing the research funding measures, even while Washington is preoccupied with the House impeachment hearings. He says the actual obstacle isn’t the impeachment process, but President Trump’s demand for $5 billion in next year’s budget for a border wall. Democrats want to spend less, on what they term border security.  Durbin says approving more money for a wall could mean less funding is available for research. 

“So, many of us are arguing for lesser amounts to the administration for its wall, and not to take the money out of areas like administration and research,” said Durbin. “That’s where the political tire meets the road.”

Durbin said recent budget talks between the White House and congressional leaders have led to progress that, while minor, gives him hope that a budget package, including this three research funding measures, will be approved by the end of the year.

Jim Meadows is a reporter at Illinois Public Media. Follow him on Twitter at @WILLJimMeadows.