With the news of possible big federal budget cuts, particularly to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Front Porch contacted U.S. Congresswoman Diana DeGette to get additional information and background. Her district, where Front Porch readers live, would be doubly affected by NIH cuts—ending research at the Anschutz Medical Campus would impact lives everywhere, but many in this community would lose their jobs.
DeGette calls the proposed cut to NIH, at 18 percent, “massive.” She reminds constituents that Congress, just last fall with strong bipartisan support, passed the 21st Century Cures Act that increased the NIH budget. Rep. DeGette and Rep. Upton (R-Michigan), co-sponsors of the bill, recently sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee and wrote an op-ed together saying they won’t accept cuts like this. She says many Republican colleagues in the House are also expressing opposition to these cuts.
“In the biomedical realm at the NIH, they’re five- or ten-year projects. What you do is you lose all the money you’ve already invested in that research, and you lose the research itself. You have to start all over again. This affects cures for all kinds of diseases; cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and others.”
DeGette also has serious concerns about the proposed 31 percent cut to the EPA. And she believes it is a problem for a lot of Republicans, adding, “Parents of America do not want to see cuts to the EPA enforcement budget that helps keep our kids safe from tainted water and tainted air.”
DeGette points out another proposed cut—13 percent to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We’re particularly concerned about this in Denver because of the population growth that we’ve had here and the high price of housing. If we had a 13 percent cut to HUD, then that’s federal funding for affordable housing, and that’s going to trickle down to places like Denver where we’ll have substantially less affordable housing for folks.”
Just as the Front Porch was going to press, Congress was approaching the April 30 deadline to pass the remainder of the 2017 budget that takes the country through the rest of the year. DeGette says Democrats and Republicans had an agreed-upon budget last fall but decided to pass it only through April 30 so the new president “would be able to have a say.” She favors approval of the 2017 budget agreed-upon last fall, then moving on to the 2018 budget, but says there is an effort to interject elements from President Trump’s 2018 budget into the rest of the 2017 budget.
How can constituents best make their views known about the budget? “The single most important thing constituents can do is communicate their opinions to their own senators, and they should talk to their friends who live in other congressional districts and tell them to communicate with their member of Congress. Constituent communications give us negotiating leverage,” says DeGette.
DeGette summarizes some of the more and less effective methods of communication. The least effective, she says, is signing onto some mass email that organizations send out. Saying I oppose the President’s budget; just vote no. That’s slightly more effective but not much. Knowing your information, making specific statements and citing facts is the most effective.
What methods of communication are best?
Polite informative phone calls, personalized emails and letters are effective (but letters to Washington are still being irradiated for anthrax, so those can take weeks). Preferences for how to communicate with different legislators may vary. DeGette says her office checks comments people post comments on her Facebook page. She doesn’t know if tweeting is effective with other legislators, but says it’s not a good way to reach her.
Get the Facts about the Federal Budget
DeGette suggests constituents go to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities web page, Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars Go?
Medicare, Medicaid and subsidies for health insurance are 25% of the budget. Social Security is 24%. Defense is 16%. Compared to those numbers, DeGette points out that nonmilitary discretionary spending is actually relatively small. For example, education is 3%, science and medical research is 2%. “But,” she says, “it’s money that really makes a difference.”