Republican and Democratic Members of the Senate and House are calling on President Bush to make science and technology a major initiative in the remaining years of his presidency. How the president responds to warnings that the United States is in danger of losing its competitive edge will become evident in the next ten days.
President Bush delivers his State of the Union address on January 30. A week later he sends his FY 2007 budget request to Congress.
The release last fall of the National Academies report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/155.html), combined with an earlier report by the Council on Competitiveness, and reinforced by last December's Innovation Summit on Competitiveness (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/172.html) have focused great attention on the future of America's science and technology enterprise. This concern is long-standing; the Hart-Rudman Commission's report that was released five years ago reached similar conclusions (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2001/021.html.)
House Democrats have responded to these concerns with a high-profile release last December of their Innovation Agenda, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) identifying this as her party's major priority this year (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/170.html.) Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), the Ranking Minority Member of the House Science Committee, has introduced three bills - H.R. 4434, H.R. 4435, and H.R. 4596 - and is readying a fourth bill, that would implement the National Academies' recommendations. Gordon wrote to President Bush this week urging him "to start the process of forging political consensus behind the pragmatic steps endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences."
That political consensus is emerging in the Senate in a series of bills. On December 15, 2005, Senator John Ensign (R-NV) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced S. 2109, the National Innovation Act of 2005. The bill has another 22 cosponsors that are across the political spectrum. S. 2109 would implement the recommendations of the Council of Competitiveness report cited above, and has three major components: research investment, increasing science and technology talent, and the development of an innovation infrastructure. At a briefing on this bill, the senators' staff noted that yet another package of legislation would soon be forthcoming.
That package of bills was introduced yesterday by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Pete Domenici (R-NM), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The bills are known collectively as the PACE Act ("Protecting America's Competitive Edge.") The three bills, S. 2197, S. 2198, and S. 2199, each have between 45 and 47 cosponsors. The legislation, PACE-Energy, PACE-Education, and PACE-Finance, would implement the National Academies report's recommendations.
At the PACE briefing, Alexander provided background on the chain of events leading to this legislation, saying he was moved to action by the question, what do we need to do to keep jobs from moving to India? Earlier this year, Alexander and Bingaman asked the National Academies to study this and related questions, which resulted in the "Gathering Storm" report. The report provided the basis for the PACE legislation.
Alexander spoke of the bipartisan consensus there is on Capitol Hill that action must be taken. The key to the success of this effort will be the support of President Bush to put S&T on the "national agenda," with $9 billion in annual funding for the initiatives outlined in the Academies report.
Alexander also spoke of the need to move ahead on this legislative effort without the customary turf battles. "Let's have only one train going through town," he said. In a statement released yesterday, American Physical Society President John Hopfield expressed the same sentiment: "On this issue, we must set political partisanship aside and work together to get the job done. Our future depends on it."
Senate staff were quick to point out that S. 2109 was complementary, and not competitive, to the PACE bills, and that the final legislation would incorporate the best features of all the bills. About 2/3s of the senators who cosponsored S. 2109 have also cosponsored one or more of the PACE bills.
Domenici has been a major force in the process and intends to hold a hearing on the PACE-Energy bill (S. 2197) in his Energy and Natural Resources Committee within the next few weeks, and then move it to the Senate floor. The PACE-Education bill (S. 2198) was sent to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which is chaired by Michael Enzi (R-WY), a cosponsor of the bill. S. 2199, PACE-Finance, was sent to the Senate Finance Committee. This bill would double the federal R&D tax credit, provide an employee education tax credit, and support the development of science parks.
The next, and all-important step in the process, is the extent to which President Bush responds to what corporate, academic, and government leaders have described as a gathering storm threatening America's future economy and national security.