Will the midterm elections affect scientists?

This article was updated on 11/4/14.

The midterm elections are less than three weeks away, and you may be wondering how they will affect scientists and research funding. As a nonprofit, ASBMB cannot give you voting advice or endorse a particular candidate. However, we can provide you with factual information to better inform your vote.

The entire U.S. House of Representatives and 36 U.S. Senate seats are up for election this year. There seems to be no doubt that the Republicans will maintain control of the House. Whether they will also take control of the Senate is hotly debated. Regardless, it is unlikely that Republicans will gain a super majority in either chamber and therefore will be unable to override President Obama’s veto.

Most of Congress’ work occurs in committees. The chair of each committee and subcommittee is selected by the majority party. This is important because if Republicans take control of the Senate the makeup and leadership of Senate committees will change. Since committee agendas and hearings are set by the chair, control of the Senate affects which pieces of legislation are given priority and ultimately what bills are brought to a vote.

Members on committees with jurisdiction over science agencies have the most influence on science policy. Although any member of Congress may propose a new science-related bill, those on science-related committees have more control over what happens to that bill. There are a number of senators and representatives who serve on committees and/or subcommittees dealing with science funding, federal science agencies or science policy issues and who are up for re-election in tightly contested races. Those races are listed in Table 1, and the outcomes of these races are likely to affect science policy in the 114th Congress. Table 2 describes the science-related jurisdictions of each of these committees and subcommittees.

These committees can have a significant impact on the scientific community. The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations sets spending levels for federal investments in research, which directly affect scientists receiving federal funds. Other committees deal with science policy rather than funding. For example, we previously wrote about policy debates in the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Subcommittee on Research impacting the National Science Foundation. In addition, policy changes currently being discussed in the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee may impact the National Institutes of Health. Who we send to Washington and the decisions they make affect science.

Research!America is an excellent resource for researching candidates’ positions on science issues, and many candidates list their views on their election websites. You can also call, email or tweet candidates to inquire about their views.

Table 1. Toss-up races in the 2014 congressional midterm elections where the incumbent is a member of a science committee or subcommittee. Ratings from the Cook Political Reports were published on 11/3/14. Ratings from the Rothenberg Political Report were published on 10/29/14 (House) and 11/1/14 (Senate).

Explanation and jurisdictions of committees and subcommittees referenced in Table 1.

Table 2. Explanation and jurisdictions of committees referenced in Table 1.

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