President Bill Clinton used to say that budgets are important because they’re moral documents–they express communal values and articulate common ideals. That’s why everyone in Washington these days is busy examining all of the various federal budget proposals coming from the House, the Senate, and the White House. That…and the politics. Nothing gets Washington more worked up these days than the politics of budgeting–from deficits to Medicare to Social Security to tax hikes, it’s all the stuff of great political copy.
For learned societies like NCA, the billions and billions of dollars at stake in the various versions of the federal budget don’t mean a whole lot–weapons systems at DOD and foreign aid monies for the State Department and public housing funds at HUD all have little to no direct effect on NCA and its members beyond our role as citizens. While we might care about such budget lines, they generally will not influence how NCA members do their jobs and fulfill their professional responsibilities as scholar/teachers.
Instead, what we look for in the various budget proposals are changes in federal outlays for research funding and shifts in other education funding streams that may have some effect on higher education. We notice, for example, when President Obama asks for a 10.6% increase in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) in his 2014 budget proposal. Along with all of their programs in biomedical research and STEM disciplines, NSF provides significant research funding for the behavioral and social sciences. Some communication scholars have received meaningful support from the NSF for their research, so the funding requests and struggles over NSF funding matter to NCA.
Though of a much smaller scale than NSF or the National Institutes of Health, at NCA we also notice funding shifts and changes in the humanities. The president’s budget requested a modest $8.6 million increase for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), to $154.4 million. Compared to the $7.626 billion (with a “b”) request for NSF, the NEH budget seems paltry–but those few million dollars can make a big difference for the researchers who receive that funding. The president’s request is particularly gratifying for the communication scholars and National Office staff members who journeyed to Capitol Hill in March to lobby for humanities funding as part of the 2013 National Humanities Advocacy Day (NHAD).
And we also notice the really small changes in budget requests and priorities that can have a real, even devastating impact. For instance, the Obama administration’s budget request proposed a 40% slashing reduction in funding for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), from $5 million to $3 million in just one year. The rationale for this request is unclear, but the consequences would be severe, threatening the very ability of the program to maintain operations. For humanities scholars in communication who examine rhetorical history, the projects pursued by the NHPRC are invaluable–so we watch carefully to see what Congress does to this tiny budget line in the months ahead.
As the budget process proceeds on Capitol Hill, NCA monitors carefully all of the potentially relevant changes and maneuvers for how they might affect our members. It’s often not enough, though, to simply watch what happens–sometimes, direct action is called for. Along with our efforts at NHAD, NCA also works alongside our advocacy partners at the Consortium for Social Science Associations (COSSA) and the National Humanities Alliance (NHA) to directly lobby for continued and increased federal funding for research and educational initiatives. Recently, NCA members were alerted to directly petition their members of Congress about humanities funding and over 300 letters were sent to Capitol Hill to champion funding for the humanities. On another front, the Coalition for National Science Funding is hosting a Capitol Hill exhibition, and NCA is sponsoring a booth featuring communication scholar Brian Spitzberg talking about his NSF funded research on cyberspace.
From changes to student loans to funding requests for research, from significant declines in state budget outlays for higher education to targeted hits on funding streams that benefit communication scholars–there’s much to scrutinize and study during this contentious budget season in DC. The politics of it all may seem intractable and obscure, but the effects and consequences of all of this budget wrangling may be quite meaningful for NCA and its members. Stay tuned…