on this track, as it now seems we actually will, every year is going to get tighter. What that adjective "easy" means is that budget cutters have only have had to go after things that have long been targets of opportunity or targets of ideological criticism.
These three factors explain why things have worked out so well thus far for basic science. However, the one common trait they share is that none gives much hope for the situation continuing. The easy years are obviously followed by hard years. You do not even get 7 fat years; you get maybe 21/2 fat years and then 5 lean years. The champions of science are going to be retiring, and so Congress's historical memory in the area of science is evaporating. Also, not being targeted is great, but it also means that people on the Hill do not necessarily know a lot about what is happening in science when budgetary constraints get tougher, and when having political support depends on being known and appreciated.
Consequently, we have a window of opportunity to build more support for basic science programs. Even more than that, the primary issue is not building more support for these programs, but figuring out how people in your community are going to survive in this different environment. That is an internal question rather than an external question. People like to focus less on the internal question because it is much easier to focus on how to do a lobbying campaign using the springboard of mathematics society meetings. But lobbying is not going to be the answer, because the hard numbers do not allow any positive scenarios for the future. The good news that we have had thus far does not mean that such things are going to continue. What we have is not a cause for complacency, but a small window of time in which to address both internal and external issues.
In thinking about what to do, there are three fallacies that need to be avoided. One I call the internalist fallacy. This is the belief that everything that happens to science and mathematics is about science and mathematics. This kind of thinking assumes that math and science exist separately from the world at large, and that if funding for science and mathematics is being cut, then that has something to do with scientists and mathematicians and their attitudes. That sort of thinking is ridiculous. There is a comprehensive budget situation, and there is an overall political situation. Science and mathematics for most people in Congress are not even background noise. If you disagree with long-term congressional budget scenarios, then write your congressman or Congresswoman and say that you do not want the budget balanced in 6 years. But do not write to them saying, "I want more mathematics and science funding." The Administration and the Congress are committed to balancing the budget in 6 years, although no rationale has been given for why it must be done or done in that time. That 6-year balancing is now the political context in which all debate takes place. It is important to avoid viewing things only in terms of your piece of the world, because that is not where the primary forces are that are generating the problem.
The second fallacy is what I call the Vannevar Bush fallacy, the notion that all we really need now is another report like Science: The Endless Frontier. I worked with the Council on Competitiveness while it was trying to write such a report, and it is a very appealing thing to do. But this approach reflects a total misunderstanding of the role that the Endless Frontier report actually played, what it meant, and how that time differs from the present. This is more than just a nice historical point because it does affect the way people think. There is the sense that if we issue the right report, then everything will be fine again because that is the way it worked in 1945. Following that 1945 report we were happy for 40 years. Unfortunately, that is not true. First, what the Endless Frontier report said is that what worked well during the war, worked well, so let us keep doing it. That is very different from trying to come up with new solutions.