Ranking Member Steve Womack (R-AR) Opening Statement at Hearing Titled: “Fueling American Innovation and Recovery: The Federal Role in Research and Development”

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Chairman Yarmuth, for holding this hearing, and thank you to our witnesses for joining us today.

Our nation’s strong innovation ecosystem has always been driven by the pioneering spirit on which America was founded. Throughout centuries, we have leveraged research and development (R&D) to make unthinkable progress across industries and drive the United States forward.

This has enabled our economic competitiveness and many of the country’s public missions: national security, health care delivery, infectious disease response, rural development, disaster preparedness and response, and more.

Thanks to R&D, advancements that could once only be imagined are now possible. Whether it’s developing the vaccine for COVID-19, next generation computers and phones, carbon capture and storage, or the next stealth multi-role combat aircraft fighter – the delivery of these capabilities has been rooted in the ability to unleash innovation, research, and technology.

I saw an example of this firsthand earlier this week as I visited NOWDiagnostics in Springdale, Arkansas. They develop simple diagnostic tests, which require nothing more than a drop of blood and a few minutes to yield results. Their products cover everything from a COVID-19 antibody test to screenings for Malaria and Ebola. It’s just one example of the many American companies producing cutting-edge solutions.

So how do we continue to encourage these types of breakthroughs? Washington should support private industry — which has led a vast majority of investment — and promote policies that encourage companies to continue to unleash opportunity in this critical space. This supporting role of the federal government should focus on resources for R&D in areas — such as early-stage research — and streamlining regulations.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have advocated for federal research funding for critical NIH programs, including Alzheimer’s, ALS, diabetes, and pediatric cancer research. We also can’t overlook national security priorities like the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which helps us combat bioterrorism and other emerging health threats.

It’s for these programs that I will continue to voice my concern of the true challenge that threatens all critical federal programs, including R&D initiatives. That is our out-of-control deficit and debt. We are spiraling toward a fiscal crisis and, once it hits, there will be zero money to fund critical programs. There will be no funding for R&D.

Mandatory spending has grown from 34 percent of the federal budget in 1965 to 70 percent today and is projected to grow to 76 percent in 2030. Discretionary spending, which includes funding for health research, space exploration, and the National Science Foundation, has declined from 66 percent of the federal budget in 1965 to 30 percent today, to a projected 24 percent in 2030.

What this committee should be focusing on is putting together a budget that addresses out-of-control mandatory spending, the driver of our unsustainable deficits and debt. If policymakers want to prioritize R&D funding, they must first tackle this threat.

Congress must get back to making the tough choices we have been tasked to do. It won’t be an easy job, but it needs to be done. This is the only way critical federal programs — both discretionary and mandatory — will continue to exist for current and future generations.

With that, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, and I look forward to today’s discussion. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.