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Candidates for Virginia’s 9th Congressional District answered a few of our questions. Read what they have to say. Discuss their answers and pose questions of your own.
Virginia's 9th District
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Today’s Roanoke Times featured a reprint of an excellent commentary by Todd Rogers and Michael Norton: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/22/opinion/la-oe-rogers-debates-20120923.
I suggest reading Roger and Norton’s commentary, and then reading Flaccavento and Griffith’s answers to the third question.
In his response to the question about Federal funding for university research, Mr. Griffith said that “identifying new species of ants” is not a valid way to spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars” of taxpayer money.
In one throw, Mr. Griffith shows that (a) he does not understand the nature of university research, (b) he doesn’t know how research funds are spent, and (c) while he claims to “believe research programs should be evaluated on their merits,” he doesn’t understand the system that is already in place at the Federal level for doing exactly that.
I can guess why Mr. Griffith doesn’t think “identifying new species of ants” is a good use of Federal dollars. It’s because he can’t see any practical use for that knowledge. But one of the main objectives of *university* research, as compared to private sector R&D, is to seek *new* knowledge for which uses might be difficult to envision and might be far in the future. One of the things that has consistently given the United States a competitive edge in many areas (agriculture, technology, military, banking, medicine, transportation, etc.) is the ability of our researchers, with help from the Federal government, to discover new knowledge and to make use of that knowledge even in ways that the discoverer might not have imagined.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars” always seems like a lot of money, because it is. But where does all that money go? The answer is that most of it finds its way very quickly back into local economies. After university overhead (which also goes fairly quickly back into the local and state economy), the biggest piece of a Federal research grant is usually stipends, tuition, and modest fringe benefits for graduate students who are hired as Graduate Research Assistants to do the actual work of the project. The university faculty member may do some of the work too, but often he or she mostly directs the work, manages the research assistants, prepares reports to the funding agency, and takes the lead in disseminating the research to the public, either through presentations, journal articles, or patents, among other vital tasks. Modest stipends slip very quickly through the fingers of students who must pay for their living expenses in the local economy, not to mention payroll taxes, sales taxes, and various user fees. Graduate students are solidly among the “47%” that we’ve heard so much about lately. They do not get rich on their stipends. It’s important to recognize also that the graduate students are not there only to do the research work but also to get educations through their close collaboration with the faculty member who can train and mentor them toward independent research careers of their own. This is how the future personnel that *will* be needed for R&D in both the public and private sectors is generated. This vital portion of the university’s educational mission really cannot be fulfilled without grant support for research from the Federal government. It’s very disappointing to learn that Mr. Griffith doesn’t understand these issues.
But what of the merit of the research itself? Mr. Griffith apparently believes that a talented scientist can surely find something better to work on than “new species of ants.” What he apparently does not understand is how research is chosen for funding by Federal agencies. University professors have to submit detailed proposals describing the research they will do and how they will spend their proposed budgets. These are documents that might take months to prepare, and often require significant pre-investment from the university to obtain preliminary supporting data. These proposals are subjected to a rigorous process of review, and only those deemed to have the most merit are recommended for funding. Proposals are not reviewed by Congressmen lacking any knowledge of the field, but rather by the researcher’s academic peers, including others competing in the same funding pool. Nor is it a charade in which researchers blithely recommend their buddies’ proposals; funds are far too scarce for that. One might still ask why the research can’t be practical. First of all, most if not all Federal agencies require not only that the proposal describe the new science but also its potential impact on society. The agencies maintain public databases where anyone with internet access can read summaries of these descriptions and learn why the proposed research is important to all of us as Americans. It’s discouraging to see that Mr. Griffith has never looked there. Second, coming back to an earlier point, it really behooves universities to do some of the far-reaching research that is not so obviously practical that it would naturally occur in the private sector. Fortunately, the academicians and program officers reviewing proposals understand this. What Mr. Griffith also probably doesn’t know is that only roughly ten percent of the proposals that are submitted to the Federal government by university researchers are even funded at all. Despite those low odds Virginia Tech researchers have been quite successful in earning their share of those highly competitive awards. Do we really want a Congressman who intends to make it harder for universities to do research without even knowing how or why they are doing it?
I don’t know anything about ants except that I need to use a little boric acid now and then to keep them out of the house. But before I claimed that any particular science carried out on ants was unworthy of Federal support, I would call up one of the expert faculty members in the Entomology Department at Virginia Tech to learn a little more about the subject. Mr. Griffith should have done that before he started talking. I was going to say that Mr. Griffith should stick to subjects he understands like partisan politics, but in one of his other comments he explained that he’s even too busy to read his own party’s platform statement.
On the other hand, I’m pleased to see that Mr. Flaccavento has a college background in science. This means he’s learned how to think about the importance of scientific research. And to me, it also suggests that he more generally understands how some issues might be complex, or subtle, or needing further study, or at least worthy of a ten-minute phone call to an expert, before making public comment.
#1 Absolutely 100 percent right, Brian. Neither one answered it.
However, I guess we also see how important his own party’s platform is to Allen — he hasn’t read it.
I would like to use Sunday’s Point/Counterpoint between candidates for the 9th Congressional District, Anthony Flaccavento and Morgan Griffith as the grounds for responding to another article from that same day. In the article “Why don’t they just answer the question?” Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton argue that candidates often allow those running for office to dodge questions, or worse, provide false answers without repercussions.
For the first question, “What changes do you favor to make Medicare sustainable, or what alternative program would you support instead of the entitlement program?” Flaccavento provides a clear answer. He lists several methods by which he believes we can reduce waste and fraud, and suggests providing incentives for wellness care and paying for better results instead of the current fee for service system for billing.
Flaccavento suggests opening up negotiations for lower prescription drug prices and providing rural communities with better access to preventative care. He provides real answers.
Griffith follows Rogers and Norton’s formula of repeating the problem, agreeing that it is a problem, then offering a vague, meaningless answer. Griffith repeats his party’s strategy of leaving Medicare alone for those 55 and older, but “…For the next generation, we will strengthen and save Medicare by giving them a range of guaranteed coverage options. We will lower costs and make sure this program is here for future generations…”
What does that even mean? What will the options be? Vouchers? How can does this guarantee of coverage work? How does this plan lower cost? Is he prepared to pass Regulations on the insurance industry to Mandate that they must cover seniors who are using this plan?
He concludes his non-answer with more promises that this issue is important to him.
The next question was, “Should the national deficit be reduced through a mix of tax increases and spending cuts or solely through spending cuts? What specific taxes and cuts do you favor?”
Flaccavento provides a well nuanced answer in which he details which taxes he would maintain at a lower tax rate on the middle class to help grow the economy, and make investments to nurture new industries that provide manufacturing jobs. Flaccavento delivers specifics on the regulations he would reduce to ease the burden on small businesses, and regulations he would propose implementing to penalize companies taking jobs overseas.
He goes on to detail how he would recommend to raise revenues, including a detailed answer in which he differentiates between a capital gains tax rate for financial activity, which has little to do with job creation, and a capital gains tax rate for those truly investing in companies responsible for job creation. Flaccavento goes on to further clarify his position by detailing the different spending programs that he would aim to reduce to reduce our annual deficits.
In his response, Griffith launches into a detailed description of the problem we face. He cites accurate figures and stats related to our total and annual accumulation of debt. When it comes to solving the problem, he states that he supports TWO plans to reduce our deficit.
“One specific cut we can make immediately is to repeal Obamacare. This program costs over a trillion dollars and will strangle our economy for years to come with higher taxes and more government involvement.”
Griffith is intentionally attempting to deceive prospective voters by perpetuating false claims. Just a few weeks after the Supreme Court upheld the Constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Griffith and his fellow Republicans in the House sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act with H.R. 6079 for the 33rd time.
The Congressional Budget Office is the nonpartisan office responsible for analyzing the potential costs of Congressional activity. According to the CBO’s website, http://www.cbo.gov, passing H.R. 6079 to repeal the Affordable Care Act “… would reduce direct spending by $890 billion and reduce revenues by $1 trillion between 2013 and 2022, thus adding $109 billion to federal budget deficits over that period.”
So Griffith’s first plan to reduce the deficit actually increases the deficit… What is his second plan? He did not divulge to readers the details of his second plan for a balanced budget to save our nation from the financial crisis he described in such frightening terms.
The final question was, “Would you support cuts to federal funding for university research initiatives?” In his response, Griffith describes the accolades of our region’s institutes of higher education in flattering terms. Then he further illustrates a point made by Rogers and Norton by pivoting the question to discuss his “4D” strategy for energy.
While this loosely relates to the question, I suspect that any funding for the “discover” part of that plan would in actuality come in the form of more subsidies for Big Oil companies, and not as financial support for research at our universities. But without more details, we can hope for the possibility that some of the money for his four Ds might fall into the laps of young researchers at our nation’s colleges to develop clean energy.
On this topic, Flaccavento provides his most concise response. He says no, he would not consider these cuts and then extolls the benefits we reap as a society from collaboration between public and private research at our nation’s schools. No ducking, no dodging, that’s how it is!
I find the Roanoke Times efforts to help voters differentiate between candidates in this year’s election with the Point/Counterpoint subsection of Sunday’s Horizon section is incredibly informative and useful. The timing of the article about candidates dodging questions by Rogers and Norton with this week’s Point/Counterpoint was impeccable. This Sunday’s Roanoke Times provides voters in the 9th District a clear blue print for whom we should elect on November 6th to represent us in Congress.
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Thu, 12 Dec 2013 05:12:38 +0000