Chattanooga Times Free Press - Lee Pitts
WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic and Republican leaders said they will fast-track legislation introduced Monday aimed at keeping the nation’s competitive edge in science and technology.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are sponsors of the “America Competes Act,” which seeks to spend $16 billion during the next four years in science and math initiatives.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, RTenn., pushed similar legislation in 2005 and 2006.
“This legislation helps America keep its brainpower advantage, and keeping our brainpower advantage is the way we keep our jobs from going overseas,” Sen. Alexander said.
Last year President Bush pushed for global-competitiveness initiatives in his State of the Union address. Sen. Alexander introduced a bill in 2005 that garnered 70 co-sponsors, but the legislation stalled during the final weeks of last year’s session.
This time Sens. Reid and McConnell are bypassing Senate committees and bringing the bill directly to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.
Senate leaders said they hope the bill would make it on the calendar in the weeks following Congress’ Easter recess in April.
“It used to be that America led the world in areas of science research and technology,” Sen. Reid said. “We still do, but our competitive edge is not what it was.” The bill would increase federal spending in research and strengthen educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.
Sen. McConnell said the bill has bipartisan support with six Democratic and six Republican co-sponsors.
The legislation takes many of its measures from the recommendations found in a National Academies report released in 2005 that was written by a panel of Nobel laureates, university presidents and chief executive officers of the nation’s top companies. It would double funding for the National Science Foundation during the next five years to $11.2 billion and also double the Energy Department’s science funding during the next decade to $5.2 billion.
Sen. Alexander said a 10 percent spending increase in research and development at federal agencies could create hundreds of new jobs at Oak Ridge and state universities.
Rep. Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, is introducing corresponding competitiveness legislation in the House.