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Sequester cuts could set back medical science a ‘generation’

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Illinois medical research institutions stand to lose more than $38 million and will be forced to cut more than 700 jobs as a result of the sequestration budget cuts that went into effect Friday, according to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill).

“Sequestration will pull the rug out from under the doctors and scientists whose hard work and innovation have made America a leader in biomedical research,” Durbin said. “Those cuts don’t make sense — for Illinois or for our nation.”

Durbin, surrounded by Chicago-area medical research executives, spoke to reporters Friday in the lobby of the new Lurie Children’s Hospital in downtown Chicago.

One of those executives, Nancy Sullivan, director of the Office of Technology Management at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the sequester cuts risk “forfeiting our nation’s competitive advantage in science.”

Mary Hendrix, president and Scientific Director of Lurie Children’s Hospital Research Center, said the cuts “will likely set back medical science an entire generation” as students and researchers will “consider abandoning medical science as a vital career, and this will compromise the entire pipeline for new discoveries and cures.”

Hendrix also said her institution recently licensed drug patents to a biotech firm, but that reduced federal funding will threaten Lurie’s ability to help develop those drugs. “Now we are all in jeopardy through a lack of sustained federal support,” Hendrix said.

Durbin said the cuts will also hit other parts of the Illinois economy, resulting in thousands of children not getting vaccinations, reduced airline schedules because of furloughs of air traffic controllers and cuts to the Head Start early education program. In the Head Start program, “Many thousands of children in our state will be literally turned away because of this,” Durbin said.

“This sequestration is a manufactured crisis,” Durbin said. “There are natural crises and acts of God which we cannot change. This is a political creation and it’s one that never, ever should have happened.”

Durbin said closing loopholes in the tax code and implementing the “Buffett Rule” ­­— a 30 percent minimum tax on million-dollar incomes ­­— would have rendered the sequestration unnecessary. Those proposals won a majority vote in the Senate but were blocked by a Republican filibuster.

“There should be a balanced approach,” Durbin said. “Yes, spending cuts, but also, revenue. The problem on the Republican side is a resistance to any idea that will raise revenue even from those who can pay without any great sacrifice.”



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