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Long-Shot GOP Budget Proposal Would Slash Science Funding

The thriftiest of Republican budget proposals for the current year would chop $500 billion from the federal budget and make dramatic cuts to federal agencies with science missions, cutting the National Science Foundation's budget by 62 percent, for example.

Tea Party support helped Rep. Rand Paul, R-Ky., win a seat in the House of Representatives in November, and his austere proposal spreads the pain around, with $4.5 billion in cuts from NASA and the elimination of the Department of Energy.

"According to the Congressional Budget Office, this will be the third year in a row which the U.S. Government runs a budget deficit near — or greater-than $1 trillion. These deficits are far greater than what is economically sustainable, and far outpaces the political duty to produce budgets that are economically responsible," his proposal reads.

But this plan is far from set in stone, said Patrick Clemins, director of R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"Rand Paul's is definitely the most dramatic of any of the proposals that are out there now, so the implications are devastating for science (but) there is no chance these cuts are going to take place at this dramatic a level," Clemins said. "While these cuts might be an example of what a Republican is looking at doing, I don't think they are a direct representation of what the majority of the party is thinking."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would also take a hit, with a budget reduction of 28 percent, in Paul's spending plan.

When asked about specifics of Rand's proposal, CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner said, "It's premature for us to comment on budget proposal that aren't actually signed into law."

He added, "I think we at CDC recognize that we live in a time of a need for fiscal constraint and tight budgets, we feel very strongly about our mission when it comes to protecting the nation's health and we will obviously work with the administration and congress to do the best we can to protect the nation's health with whatever our budget ends up being."

Regarding Paul's proposal to slash the NSF budget, Maria Zacharias, NSF spokeswoman, declined comment saying, "Our policy is not to discuss proposed spending bills as opposed to enacted legislation." (Spokesperson William Duval of the National Institutes of Health, whose budget would see a cut of 37 percent under Paul's plan, also declined comment saying they also don't comment on pending legislation.)

Multiple budget-cut proposals have been put forward — all much less aggressive — but the one with the most official weight came on Thursday when Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chair of the House Budget Committee, called for $74 billion in cuts relative to what Pres. Obama requested a year ago. 

Clemins noted that the final budget must also pass the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

Congress is still working to tie up the current year's budget, while Obama prepares his proposal for 2012. The White House is expected to release that proposal on Feb. 14.  

LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas contributed reporting to this article. You can follow LiveScience writer Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry.

Wynne Parry
Wynne Parry
Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.