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Congress cuts funding for independent research on ... Congress

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) addresses the Reuters Washington Summit in the Reuters newsroom in Washington, November 9, 2011. REUTERS/Jona
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) addresses the Reuters Washington Summit in the Reuters newsroom in Washington, November 9, 2011. REUTERS/Jona

By Fred Barbash

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress, heal thyself.

The Congress cut off the major source of federal funding for research on itself on Thursday when it banned the National Science Foundation from supporting the study of political science.

The measure was sponsored by Republican Senator Tom Coburn, who cited as particularly wasteful scholarly research on attitudes toward the Senate.

There is no reason to spend money "studying Americans' attitudes toward the Senate when citizens can figure that out for free," Coburn, of Oklahoma, said in a statement.

His amendment was added to the bill funding the government for the rest of the year, which passed the Senate on Wednesday and the House of Representatives on Thursday.

The ban applies at least through the end of this fiscal year, which ends September 31.

Coburn, a physician, has been waging war on funding of political science research for years, calling it unnecessary and wasteful, unlike research in fields such as medicine, for example.

He cited, among other things, $251,000 for a study of the Senate filibuster, the practice that allows a minority of the Senate to hold up legislation; $106,068 to study presidential executive orders; and $91,016 to study the influence of lobbying campaigns in Congress.

The National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency, spends roughly $11 million on political science research annually, according to a spokesman for the American Political Science Association, out of a total budget of about $8 billion.

The association condemned the measure as "a gross intrusion into the widely respected, independent scholarly agenda setting process" at the foundation, which funds roughly 20 percent of the federally supported scholarly research in U.S. colleges and universities.

It "creates an exceptionally dangerous slippery slope," its statement said, making "all scientific research vulnerable to the whims of political pressure."

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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