From the Senate Floor: S. 3936, the National Competitiveness Investment Act

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Publication date: 
24 October 2006

Seven senators spoke at length when S. 3936, the National Competitiveness Investment Act, was introduced last month. The following are excerpts from the more than 10,000 words of remarks on the Senate floor about competitiveness, the objectives of the legislation, and the remarkable bipartisan cooperation that made this bill possible:

Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI).

"The lynchpin of continued innovation that will lead to economic competitiveness will be educating and inspiring young people to be educated and employed in science – and technology-related disciplines. This bill uses educational programs to inspire students from kindergarten through graduate school to pursue math and science. It also ensures that the Nation's enterprise research is well-funded and focused on the needs of the Nation."

"The United States can and must remain strong and competitive in the face of emerging challenges from the rest of the world. This bill is not the final answer, but it is a starting point. We will begin by strengthening science research and improving education to generate the ideas that U.S. companies can transform into the next breakthrough product."

Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA):

"Federal investment in research and development has been shrinking as a share of the economy, and government research programs at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy all have less funding this year than they did three years ago.

"At the same time, fast-growing countries like China, Ireland and South Korea are realizing the potential for economic growth that comes with investing in innovation. For example, China's total research and development investments rose from $12.4 billion in 1991 to $84.6 billion in 2003, an average increase of 17 percent a year. Over the same period, the increase in U.S. investment averaged only 4 to 5 percent annually.

"Study after study tells us that we need major new investments in education and research and development to stay ahead. We cannot just tinker at the margins and expect to master our own destiny in the global economy. We have a responsibility to make the investments that are necessary to our progress – a responsibility to our families, to our economy, to our Nation, and to our national security."

"Americans know how to rise to challenges and come out ahead. We've done it before and we can do it again. When we were called into action in 1957 with the Soviet Sputnik launch, we rose to the challenge by passing the National Defense Education Act and inspiring the nation to ensure that the first footprint on the moon was by an American. We doubled the federal investment in education.

"We need the same bold commitment to help the current generation meet and master the global challenges of today and tomorrow. The National Competitiveness Investment Act will start to put America back on track. I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve upon the bill as it moves forward and to expand on these efforts in the months to come."

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX):

"As chair of the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee, I am especially pleased that this legislation ensures that both NASA and NSF are able to expand their strong traditional roles in fostering technological and scientific excellence. The language we have crafted increases essential NASA funding to support basic research and foster new innovation by calling for full use of existing budget authority that we provided within the 2005 NASA Authorization Act. Under the terms of this legislation, the President could request an additional $1.4 billion dollars in Fiscal Year 2008 for application toward these activities. By directing NASA's full participation in interagency efforts for competitiveness and innovation – under the more widely known term of the American Competitiveness Initiative – this legislation points the way for the administration to now make use of that additional authority in supporting projects that can help meet these important competitiveness and innovation goals."

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM):

"As chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Committee, I was pleased I was able to slightly exceed the President's request for a 14-percent increase in the Office of Science in fiscal year 2007, putting it on a track to double in a decade, which is the goal and objective of the Norm Augustine report. The NCIA, which it will be called, also includes provisions that will build on the educational program sponsored by the Department of Energy, by engaging the facilities and scientific workforce of the national laboratories, and these educational programs will help ensure that we are preparing today's young people for the demands of tomorrow's high-tech workplace. The NCIA is a good partner to the President's initiative. I applaud the President for his bold vision which he expressed to us in his State of the Union Address, and which we have built upon in the legislation we are talking about today."

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM):

"We are all aware here in the Senate that we operate on two different tracks: we operate on the track of authorizing legislation and the track of appropriating legislation. The legislation we are talking about today and introducing today is authorizing legislation, so it is only one of the steps needed in order to get action accomplished here in the Congress. But it is an important step, and it is particularly important when you are setting a long-term goal.

"That is what this legislation attempts to do: It tries to look long term. It tries to say that we need to ramp up our investment in these critical areas of concern so that five years from now, ten years from now, we will see a change in these trend lines which have so concerned the National Academy of Sciences as well as many of us here in the Congress.

"This bill authorizes $73 billion to be spent over five years to maintain our Nation's competitive edge. Of that, about $20 billion is considered new funding; that is, it is funding above the 2006 level at which we are today. These are only authorizations. It is not an appropriation. It is going to be our job, and it is not an easy job, but it is going to be the job of the Congress not only to appropriate these new moneys we are here authorizing but also to make sure those moneys are not appropriated at the expense of other important programs in the Department of Education or in the National Science Foundation or in the Department of Energy. I think we are all aware that this has to be new money in a genuine sense of that term."

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN):

"It is worth pausing today to notice that this is legislation which will be introduced tonight by the majority leader of the Senate, Senator Frist, and by the Democratic leader of the Senate, Senator Reid. There are not very many things this year in this Congress that have been introduced by our distinguished two leaders. They do that for a reason. They usually don't even cosponsor legislation. But they have decided that in this case, this issue is so important that they wanted to send a signal to our country, to the rest of us in the Senate, to the Members of the House of Representatives, to all of us.

"The Presiding Officer and I deeply believe it is urgently important for our country to do what it takes to keep our edge in science and technology so we can keep our share of good-paying jobs in the United States of America and not see them go overseas to China and India and other places. This is the way to do that, and this is an important beginning. It would not have happened but for Senator Domenici and Senator Bingaman and a variety of other Senators – so many, it is hard to mention them all. In fact, the reason I think the bill is having such success as it moves through the Senate is that it has so many fathers and mothers, it is not possible to tell who they are because this is a subject matter which many Senators have been working on for a long time."

"In my experience as a Governor of a State, we had low taxes, and that helped to create new jobs. But we also needed to make investments in centers of excellence and good teaching and distinguished scientists because we knew what most of the world now is learning: most of our good new jobs come from brainpower, from our advantage in science and technology. We are in a constant state of losing jobs every day as most healthy economies are. So the key to our success is how many good new jobs we can create, and the key to that is our brainpower advantage.

"We are not the only ones in the world who understand this. We have a Democratic leader who understands it. We have a Republican leader who understands it. We have a President of the United States, President Bush, who understands it and who made it a central part of his State of the Union Address. But let me mention just one other President who understands it.

" Just about a month ago, a group of Senators, led by Senator Stevens and Senator Inouye, traveled to China. We met with the President of China, President Hu Jintao. We also met with the Chairman of the National People's Congress, the No. 2 person in China, Mr. Wu. Just two months earlier, in July, President Hu went to the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering to outline a new 15-year plan to make China the technology leader in the world. In his speech, the President of China said China must: ‘Promote a huge leap forward of science and technology; we shall put strengthening independent innovation capability at the core of economic structure adjustment.'

" His plan included reforming China's universities and massively investing in new research. The President of China concluded his speech this way: ‘We all bear the time-honored mission to provide strong scientific support for the construction of a well-off society by improving our independent innovation capability and building an innovative country. I hope that our scientists and technicians will strive hard to make brilliant achievements and constantly contribute to our country and the people.'"

"Some who watch Congress might think that is a little bit naive because we disagree about a lot and there are a lot of politics here. But the National Academies came back with 20 recommendations. The Council on Competitiveness already had a very good report. The President made his own proposal, which was very substantial. Lo and behold, we have worked together for 18 months and came up with an even better piece of legislation than any of us introduced to begin with. And we have virtually a unanimous agreement about it, among three of the largest and most important committees here, and the majority leader and the Democratic leader are sponsoring the bill themselves.

"We should pass this legislation this year. We should not go home without doing it. We can't do it this week. But by introducing the legislation today, Senator Frist and Senator Reid give our country a chance, while we all are at home in the next four weeks, to tell us what they think about it.

"There are a lot of people running for the Senate. I hope in every single Senate race this year someone asks the question, Are you in favor of the Frist-Reid competitiveness legislation, and do you believe it ought to pass the Senate before the end of the year? I hope that question is asked. I believe the answer will be yes."

Senator John Ensign (R-NV):

"We have learned some startling statistics. First of all, we find out that America will graduate somewhere around 60,000 to 70,000 engineers this year. China and India together will graduate a much larger number of engineers in that same time period.

"In the 21st century, we need to encourage more people to go into the technology fields, into science, math, and engineering. We need more students to pursue advanced degrees in these fields. We need to inspire more of our young people to go into these fields.

"One interesting fact that came out is that if our kids become disinterested in science and math in elementary school, the chances of them ever becoming interested in these fields later on in life are virtually nil. So we have to focus on inspiring our young kids to go into science, technology, engineering, and math from a very young age."

"As a matter of fact, Senators Alexander, Bingaman, and Domenici introduced what they called their PACE bills that addressed a lot of the problems that were identified in the National Academies, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm"' report. During the past several weeks we have undertaken a bipartisan effort to combine the work products of the Senate Commerce Committee, the Senate Energy Committee, and the Senate HELP Committee. This effort has included the involvement of the chairmen and ranking members, both Republicans and Democrats, from all of these committees, as well as several other Members who have been involved. This has been under the direction of the two leaders' offices. This is the most bipartisan effort on any bill probably in the last several years in the Senate.

"This was no easy task, especially when we need to be ever vigilant about growing deficits. We were forced to take a hard look at how to best address pressing needs related to science, technology, engineering, and math education, basic research and barriers that U.S. companies are facing as they compete in this global economy.

"I believe the legislation before us today is a good compromise, and it reflects a good mix of spending on key priorities like basic research and education, while being sensitive to avoiding the duplication among various federal agencies. This legislation will ensure these programs are being evaluated and are being responsive to key needs, while at the same time being fiscally responsible. "

"I am a fiscal conservative. I am one of the most fiscally conservative Members of the Senate. But every dollar we spend on basic research is a dollar that will come back to us in spades in terms of stimulating economic activity and helping to keep the United States at the forefront of global innovation. By the way, those who are concerned about tax revenues coming in, the better our economy does, the more tax revenues come into the Federal Government."

"As Senator Alexander said a few moments ago, we encourage all of our colleagues to join us in cosponsoring this important piece of legislation. Now is the time to act. We have a rare opportunity to put aside our party labels and to put our country first. In many other areas, we should be not Republican, not Democrat, not Independent – we should be Americans. This is such a bill. This piece of legislation is critical for the future competitiveness of our country. I urge all of our colleagues to join us in this bipartisan effort "

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