Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) National Competitiveness Investment Act

Posted on September 26, 2006

Mr. ALEXANDER: Mr. President, I thank the Senator from New Mexico and the senior Senator from New Mexico for their leadership and their comments. This is important legislation. 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. This bill is about growing our economy, creating as many good new jobs as we can, so that in 20 years we don't wake up and wonder how countries such as China and India passed us by. This is a pro-growth investment. This $20 billion of new spending over 5 years is as much a pro-growth investment as a tax cut is. 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 2 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. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the complete remarks of President Hu to the Chinese Academies of Science and Engineering in July be printed in the RECORD at the conclusion of my remarks. We met with President Hu for about an hour, those of us from the Senate. We talked about a variety of issues with him: North Korea, Iran, Iraq. He was more animated about this subject than any other subject, which is why I suppose we had 70 Senators--35 Democrats, 35 Republicans--who cosponsored the Domenici-Bingaman bill that was the Augustine report. We all understand it is very important. We have seen what is happening in India. India is another great country with a distinguished group of scientists, and they now recognize if they want a bigger share of the world's economic pie, the way to do that is through science and innovation. The challenge America faces today is really a challenge about brain power and jobs. I appreciate the way the Augustine report especially put this into perspective. It didn't say the United States of America is about to fall off a cliff or that China and India are going to catch us tomorrow. It said we face a gathering storm. We need to realize how fortunate we are in the United States of America when it comes to our standard of living. We constitute between 4 percent and 5 percent of the world's population. Last year we had 28 percent of the world's wealth. The International Monetary Fund says the gross domestic product of the United States last year was 28 percent of the global total for just 4 to 5 percent of the people. The average Chinese person probably has a share of the gross domestic product that is one-twentieth of the average American. By some estimates, China may be moving fast enough to have a gross domestic product as big as that of the United States by the year 2040. But even then, the average American's share of that amount of wealth will be four to five times as much as that of the average Chinese person. So we are not about to fall off the cliff. But at the same time, we know if we want to keep our high standard of living for all Americans, we have to constantly create a large number of good new jobs. And the way we do that is brain power. Our good fortune comes from that advantage in brain power. We have the finest system of colleges and universities. We attract 500,000 of the brightest foreign students. They come here because these are the best institutions. Many stay here, creating good new jobs for us. Many go home. Many are going back to China and India to help their countries succeed. No country has national research laboratories to match ours. Americans have won the most Nobel Prizes in science. We have registered the most patents. That innovation has been responsible for at least half of our good new jobs. That is why we introduced this bill today. That is why we went, together, the Democratic side, the Republican side, to the National Academy of Sciences and said: We see this coming. Tell us what we should do. Tell us specifically what we should do, 1 through 10 in priority order. If you tell us, if you are specific about it, I bet we will do it. 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 4 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. Our friends in the House of Representatives have been working hard on this issue, too. Again, it is not just a Republican initiative, not just a Democratic initiative, they have plenty of bipartisan effort there, too. It would be my hope that we can take what they have done and what we have done and do it before the end of the year. This is just the beginning of what we are able to do. Senator Domenici and Senator Bingaman did a good job of suggesting what the bill includes, so I will not belabor that. But I would simply like to conclude my remarks to try to bring these lofty words down to Earth a little bit in terms of how this legislation might actually affect one State. For example, if this legislation is enacted, many bright Tennesseans could receive 4-year scholarships to earn bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math while concurrently earning teacher certification. The new teachers would be expected to teach in poorer schools for at least the first few years after graduation. That would be available in every State. There could be summer academies for math and science teachers in Tennessee. In our case, it could be at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, providing opportunities for those teachers to work with distinguished scientists and go back to the classrooms and inspire their students. There would be more advanced placement training for 400 Tennessee math and science teachers so more students could learn math and science, we could have more home-grown scientists. There would be support for a proposed math and science specialty high school. Our Governor has recommended that. North Carolina has had one for 20 years. We never felt we could afford it in Tennessee, but this would give some help to our State in terms of having a specialty high school in math and science. There would be high-tech internships for middle and high school students across our State, and there would be growing support Tennessee-based researchers that would lead to new high-tech jobs. This is in addition to the increases in funding for the physical sciences authorized in this legislation, which would especially affect our research universities and our National Laboratories. So I am delighted to have had the opportunity to be a part of this. I look forward to advancing it. I certainly intend, as I go across Tennessee, to let our citizens know what the Frist-Reid competitiveness legislation offers our country. I intend to let them know that this is the way we keep our high standard of living and that we should be expected to act on it before the end of the year. I congratulate all those Senators who have worked on it, and I invite every single Member of this body to be a cosponsor.