Congressional tomfoolery

Cutting $11 million in political science research is an absurd way to save money.

Daily Editorial Board

As reported in the Minnesota Daily earlier this week, Congress passed an amendment proposed by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., as part of the continuing resolution to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding research in political science, which totaled some $11 million out of a total annual NSF budget of $7.8 billion.

Coburn and his colleagues argue that the money only funds research that Americans could figure out for free by watching FOX News. This is a mischaracterization of what political science research does. It informs experts, policymakers and citizens of the effectiveness of different methods of government structure, government policies and a wide variety of other independent, peer-reviewed and statistically valid analysis. Such work is a far cry from what the public can hear from the likes of Sean Hannity on FOX News or Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

To suggest otherwise implies that Coburn would like to see a less informed electorate, fewer ideas for government and policy reform and less knowledge of how effectively voters’ preferences are implemented. The NSF funds 61 percent of social science research. The $11 million saved is less than 10 percent of the cost of a single new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plane.

It is amazing that the Senate could pass such an amendment by voice vote. When brought up in the House, all the Senate amendments were considered together — votes could not be cast for individual amendments. As an indication of the ridiculousness of such a motion, U.S. Reps.  Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., both voted against the amendments.

Perhaps political science research could explain to Coburn and the rest of Congress the consequences of last-minute governing by crises that seem to stifle debate of issues such as these in the interest of meeting deadlines.