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Fiscal cliff threatens scientific research, experts warn

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The automatic spending cuts would reduce federal research and development funds by $57.5 billion in the next five years.

Scientists and inventors such as Joe DeSimone will be keeping an eye on the budget deal-making in Washington, D.C., over the next month, because if negotiators fail to steer the nation away from the fiscal cliff, automatic spending cuts will chop back federal support for scientific research at universities nationwide.

“The lifeblood of this country is research and the economic development that flows from that,” said DeSimone, an inventor with his name on more than 130 patents and an entrepreneur who has launched several spinoff companies. “This economy is driven by innovation.”

President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans are negotiating to try to head off the “fiscal cliff”—the end of Bush-era tax cuts and the beginning of automatic spending cuts negotiated during the 2011 debt-ceiling debate. Experts say the cliff could mean a new recession. Scientists say its impact could stunt innovation and the future of science in the United States.

Indeed, federally supported science, research, and innovation has resulted in many of the benefits society takes for granted, such as vaccines and lasers, said Steven Fluharty, senior vice provost for research at the University of Pennsylvania, speaking at a recent briefing on Capitol Hill.

DeSimone, who holds chaired professorships in chemistry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, said the possibilities are so catastrophic that political leaders will have to work out a deal.

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