Biden puts R&D investment at heart of $2T spending plan

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (White House)

President Joe Biden has proposed pumping tens of billions of dollars into R&D through his American Jobs Plan. The plan includes $30 billion of pandemic-related spending intended to accelerate drug development and otherwise help the U.S. recover from COVID-19 and prevent future crises.

Having already secured a $1.9 trillion funding package to address the COVID-19 crisis, Biden is now asking congress to pass a $2 trillion plan designed to create jobs and strengthen U.S. infrastructure. Elements of the far-reaching proposal, which will be partly funded by taxes on corporations, focus on biotech and on R&D more generally. Biden framed the plan as correcting changes from recent decades. 

“The United States government used to spend 2% of its GDP on research and development. Today, we spend less than 1%,” Biden said in a speech to unveil the plan. “We’ve fallen back. The rest of the world is closing in and closing in fast. We can’t allow this to continue. The American Jobs Plan is the biggest increase in our federal non-defense research and development spending on record.”  

Biden went on to say the spending will “boost America’s innovative edge” in areas including biotech and singled out competition with China to articulate the need for the U.S. to step up its investment. At this stage, it is unclear how much of the research part of the spending plan, which adds up to more than $200 billion, will go into areas that affect biotech. 

The plan to spend $30 billion on tasks related to pandemics will funnel some cash toward biotech, with the White House singling out the need to speed R&D for therapeutics for emerging and future outbreaks and accelerate response time “by developing prototype vaccines through phase I and II trials” as specific uses of the cash. The end goal is to “markedly decrease the time from discovering a new threat to putting shots in arms.” 

Biden is also proposing to give $50 billion to the National Science Foundation to create a “technology directorate that will collaborate with and build on existing programs across the government.” The directorate will focus on a range of high-tech fields, including biotech. Other big pieces of spending include $40 billion earmarked for upgrades to “research infrastructure in laboratories across the country, including brick-and-mortar facilities and computing capabilities and networks.”

The Biden administration now faces the challenge of getting the proposal through Congress. Biden will need all Democrats in the Senate and most in the House to back the spending plan, unless he can persuade some Republicans to vote in favor. Pushback against the spending has already begun, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce calling it “dangerously misguided.”