The human toll, setbacks to science, and “the only thing worse than sequestration . . .”

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As looming spending cuts preoccupy the press, here’s a glimpse of impacts and how members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are taking it, in an all-sequestration edition of What We’re Reading . . .

US faces fresh financial shock: The recent pause at the edge of the fiscal cliff may have seemed to signal a rising spirit of cooperation, but actually it’s looking like a rest stop for spending hawks gathering a second wind, this Financial Times story suggests. The article quotes Rep. Paul Ryan predicting the across the board cuts evenly divided between defense and non-defense discretionary spending known as the sequester “is going to happen.” While the story quotes analysts discussing ways sequestration leaves little on either side of the aisle to like — slashing defense spending, as well as funding to to the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, while slowing economic growth and recovery, it  also points to a tone that seems to have moved beyond denial and anger to acceptance, including this from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA):  ” . . . if that’s what has to happen, so be it.”

Once Unthinkable, Severe Spending Cuts Now Seem Plausible: This roundup from the National Journal shows how the standoff  between those polemically divided along taxing and cutting lines could be headed to the usual worst case scenario of standoffs — a situation “designed to be so bad that neither side would let it take effect.” While the sequester exempts some domestic programs, including Social Security and Medicare, it will hit overseas spending, making the input the article gathers from some of the new members, as well as one of the new leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Relations Committee, interesting. That includes the oblique “The only thing worse than the sequester is no sequester,” from Sen. Jeff Flake, (R-AZ), a wish for “some flexibility,” on how cuts are enacted from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), now ranking Republican on the committee, and, from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a call to weigh defense issues.

The Effect of Budget Sequestration on Global Health: Then there’s the human toll of sequestration’s impact from amfAR, updating projections on how, as noted in earlier analyses, “applying sequestration cuts to US government global health programming would have minimal impact on deficit reduction, but would be devastating to the lives of many people globally.” The analysis finds, for example, that the cut in funding for US bilateral support would result in 164,000 people unable to access HIV treatment, leading to 37,700 deaths orphaning 74,300 children. For a full picture, check out not just the update (with calculations based on 5.1 percent across-the-board cuts) but the first, October 2011 calculations, which used a similar projection, estimating the impact in terms of deaths from preventable, treatable disease for every 5 percent cut to funding.

NIH Director Francis Collins: Medical research at risk
: This Jan. 16 look at the impact on US medical and other scientific advances cites an earlier scenario of a 6.4 percent cut to funding for the National Institutes of Health, but the idea remains the same, as Director Francis Collins discusses the “strange paradox” of exciting progress in medical advances against a backdrop of diminishing spending to bring possibilities to fruition.

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