Short takes: Fiscal cliff

  • October 13, 2012 - 4:01 PM


Budget cuts, whatever they're called, still hurt

When I hear the word "sequestration," I am reminded of Gilda Radner's old "Saturday Night Live" character, Miss Emily Litella, who was known for misunderstanding important news stories and issuing her own opinions. I can hear a mock point/counterpoint exchange in my head:

"What's all this fuss I'm hearing about equestrians in the federal budget? I think that the federal government shouldn't be paying for congressmen to ride horses!"

"Miss Litella, it's 'sequestration,' not 'equestrians.' If Congress doesn't agree on where cuts should be made in the federal budget, cuts will be made across the board."

"What's all this about cuts? I think that trying to cut a board when it is balanced on a horse sounds very unsafe. People could get hurt, and it would make a terrible mess, too."

"Miss Litella, I told you. There are no horses involved! But it is true that a lot of people could be hurt.

"For instance, sequestration could result in a $2.5 billion budget cut for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the largest funder of biomedical research in the world. As an example, in fiscal 2011, NIH funded $151 million in Parkinson's disease research. Cutting NIH funding for even one year could wipe out decades of critical research and keep new therapies and cures for Parkinson's and other diseases from being developed.

"NIH also drives local economies with the related jobs it supports. United for Medical Research reported that last year, NIH investment supported 432,000 jobs, which generated $62.13 billion in economic activity."

"Oh, my! It would have to be a very big horse to carry so many people. And I didn't know they could drive. And speaking of horses, 'N-I-H' is a very odd name for a horse. I thought they all had names like 'Tea Biscuit' and 'Secretary.'"

"Miss Litella, for the last time, we are talking about sequestration, not equestrians! No horses! No one riding horses. No secretaries. It's just across-the-board cuts to the federal budget."

"Oh. That's very different. Never mind."

• • •

I know too many people who are like Emily Litella. As someone who has had Parkinson's disease for 15 years, I don't want them to say "never mind." I want them to contact their representatives in Congress to urge them to avoid cutting the NIH budget.


The writer is an activist, artist and author and volunteer state director for Parkinson's Action Network.

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