U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was named a Senate conferee on the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act – bipartisan legislation to protect America’s brainpower advantage through math and science education and scientific research. As a conferee, Alexander will be a key negotiator, working closely with colleagues from both parties, including House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN-6), in reconciling the Senate and House versions of the bill before sending it to the president to be signed into law.
“Keeping our brainpower advantage means that we keep good paying jobs from going overseas,” Alexander said. “We’ve been working for more than two years to protect America’s competitive edge, and the America COMPETES Act is now ready to clear the last hurdle. Bart Gordon has been the champion of this legislation in the House of Representatives and I look forward to working with him, Senator Bingaman and all our colleagues as we finish this bill.”
“To prevent more American jobs from moving offshore, we must commit to providing the next generation with the skills they will need for the jobs of the future,” said Gordon. “Other countries will always have cheaper labor, so we must be the source of the world’s most highly skilled workforce if we want to stay competitive. This bill will help us secure America’s ability to compete, and I look forward to working with Senator Alexander on this important legislation.”
Both the Senate and House versions of the bill focus on three primary areas of importance to maintaining and improving U.S. innovation in the 21st century: (1) increasing research investment, (2) strengthening educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from elementary through graduate school, and (3) developing an innovation infrastructure. It is a legislative response to recommendations contained in the National Academies’ “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report and the Council on Competitiveness’ “Innovate America” report.
When naming Senators to finalize the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) praised Alexander’s leadership: “This is the end of a long haul to do a bill that’s extremely important. This is [a] bipartisan bill and there are a number of people who have worked extremely hard on this, but no one harder than Senators Bingaman and Alexander.”
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also applauded Alexander’s appointment: “Senator Alexander kept pushing others forward, but in fact we all knew who the real leader on our side was on this issue. He, in a very selfless way, helped move a bipartisan group together to form this important legislation, and I want to commend Senator Alexander in particular for the role that he played in all of this.”
The America COMPETES Act (S. 761) passed this spring by a vote of 88-8. It was jointly introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and ultimately attracted 69 bipartisan cosponsors. The bill was based on proposals in the Protecting America’s Competitive Edge (PACE) Act, which Alexander introduced with Senators Domenici (R-NM), Bingaman (D-NM) and Mikulski (D-MD) early in 2005, and garnered 70 cosponsors evenly split between Republicans and Democrats – as well as another version of the bill that was sponsored last Congress by then Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist (R-TN). The 21st Century Competitiveness Act of 2007 (H.R. 2272) is the House companion bill, and was introduced by Gordon (D-TN-6).
In addition to Alexander, the Senate leadership named the following Senators as negotiators when the bill moves to conference: Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), John F. Kerry (D-MA), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Pete V. Domenici (R-NM), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Michael B. Enzi (R-WY), John Ensign (R-NV), and Norm Coleman (R-MN).
The House has not yet named conferees but is expected to do so soon. Gordon is expected to lead the negotiators from the House.
Alexander sits on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and is a former U.S. Secretary of Education.