Obama Wins Reelection, Faces Challenges and Opportunities to Push Science Research and Education Agenda

7 November 2012
AGU Science Policy Alert 12-45

Billions of dollars, months of grueling campaigning, four debates and countless negative television advertisements later, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden captured over 50% of the popular vote and at least 303 electoral votes last night, winning a second term and defeating their Republican challengers, Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan.  Victories in swing states including Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin were essential to the Democratic candidates’ success.

“Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come,” President Obama said to audiences in Chicago and around the country in his victory speech last night.  “And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future.  I have never been more hopeful about America.  And I ask you to sustain that hope.”

Governor Romney also called for a renewed commitment to the country’s future in his concession speech from Boston.  “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point.  At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing.  Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”

Democrats maintained control over the Senate with at least 52 seats, and Republicans remain the majority in the House of Representatives with at least 232 seats.

With the election season over, President Obama and Congress have numerous challenges and opportunities to make progress on key science policy issues:

    • The Fiscal Cliff: The President and the lame duck 112th Congress have until 2 January to take action to avert the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of the end of the Bush-era tax cuts and sequestration, deep cuts in both defense and discretionary spending agreed upon during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis to provide an incentive for bipartisan cooperation on balancing the federal budget.  The White House Office of Management and Budget estimates that if sequestration does occur, non-defense discretionary spending including funding for scientific research and education initiatives will experience deep cuts of approximately 8.2%.  Federal agencies and programs that support geoscience research including NSF, NASA, USGS, NOAA, and DOE would experience hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts unless President Obama and Congress agree on a plan to balance the national budget.
    • Administration Leadership: The Obama Administration will likely also choose new leadership as current appointees step down at the conclusion of the President’s first term.  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco, among others, may decide to leave their current positions.  This turnover and the President’s new leadership team have the potential to strongly influence science policy issues over the next four years.
    • Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: The challenge of global warming was never mentioned in any of the presidential or vice presidential debates, and the issue has only rarely come up on the campaign trail.  Nevertheless, some observers hope President Obama will try to take action on the issue during his second term, especially in light of the devastation on the East coast caused by Hurricane Sandy and the disastrous summer droughts that plagued most of the nation, which may have been exacerbated by climate change.
    • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education: President Obama’s campaign promises included recruiting and preparing 100,000 math and science teachers, supporting training programs for two million Americans for jobs including those in STEM fields, and increasing Pell Grant support to help the U.S. lead the world in college graduates.  Whether he will be able to work with Congress to pass these initiatives may have a large impact on America’s economic competitiveness in science and technology.
    • Federal Employee Scientific Conference Travel: Currently an Administration Office of Management and Budget (OMB) rule is limiting the ability of government scientists to attend scientific conferences. Two bills currently in Congress responding to the General Service Administration scandal may have similar unintended consequences for federal researchers.  If the House version, Government Spending Accountability Act, or the Senate version, an amendment to 21st Century Postal Service Act, were passed and signed into law by President Obama, it would become much more difficult for the restrictions to be lessened in the future.

As contentious as this election season was, both Governor Romney and President Obama recognized the value of scientific research and education during the debates and on the campaign trail.  President Obama and the 113th Congress have a unique opportunity to take action to support science over the coming years.


Help us show the President the value of science and education to our nation by contacting him and letting him know which critical science issues you want him to address in the next four years.