Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Final Passage of the America COMPETES Act

Posted on August 3, 2007

Mr. President, this evening the Senate unanimously passed a piece of legislation which we call the America COMPETES Act. Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed it by a vote of 367 to 57. So anyone watching the work of the U.S. Congress must think: Well, that must either be not very important or not very hard to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. I would suggest that the America COMPETES Act will be as important as any piece of legislation the Congress passes in this session, and it has taken as much work as any piece of legislation that has been passed in this session. I would like to spend a few minutes acknowledging the work and describing the importance of the bill, but I think the first thing to do is to say actually what the bill does. The point of the America COMPETES Act is very simple. It helps America keep its brainpower advantage so we can keep our jobs from going overseas to China and India and other countries. The Presiding Officer is from a State that has benefitted greatly from America's brainpower advantage. There is a great deal of higher education and research in his State, and, as a result of that, a number of jobs. I have been in the Edison Museum in New Jersey, which is a good reminder of exactly what we are talking about. Thomas Edison used to say he failed 10,000 times until he succeeded once. That one success was the lightbulb, and then a number of other inventions, which created millions of jobs in the United States. The United States, this year, is producing about a third of all the money in the world. The International Monetary Fund says that almost 30 percent of all the wealth in the world is produced in our country, measured in terms of gross domestic product, for just 5 percent of the world's population. That is how many Americans there are. So imagine if you are living in China or India or Ireland or any country in the world, and you are looking at the United States. It is not so hard to look at other countries today with the Internet and travel and television the way they are. Someone in one of those countries could say: How can those Americans be producing 30 percent of all the wealth for themselves when they are only 5 percent of the world's population? They have the same brains everybody else does. They cannot work any harder than anybody else does. What is it? There are a variety of advantages we have in this country. But most people who look at this country, since World War II, believe our standard of living, our family incomes, our great wealth comes primarily from our technological advances, from the fact that it has been in this country that the automobile, the electric lightbulb, the television set, the Internet, Google have been invented. Or the pharmaceutical drugs that help cure disease all over the world, they also have come mostly from this country. It is that innovation that has given us our standard of living and given the rest of the world a high standard of living. That brainpower advantage we have is located in some pretty obvious places. One place, of course, is our system of higher education, the great university system. We not only have many of the best universities in the world, we have almost all of them. Another place is in the great National Laboratories, from Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Los Alamos and across our country. Another is in the great corporations of America where research is done -- whether it is in pharmaceuticals or whether it is in agriculture. Those great engines of research and innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit and free market that we have have given us this great advantage. We, therefore, talk a lot about progrowth policies. What causes our economy to grow? We, on this side -- we Republicans -- talk a lot about low taxes. I believe that is important and vote that way. When I was Governor of Tennessee, we had the lowest tax rates in the country. But I found very quickly that low taxes by themselves do not create a high standard of living because we had the lowest taxes in our State but we also were the third poorest State. I also found that better schools and better research were the keys to better jobs. That is what this bill is about. So as a result of the America COMPETES Act, over the next few years, we will have done something pretty remarkable. We asked the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, as well as other business leaders in our country, exactly what it would take to keep our brainpower advantage, and they have told us, and tonight we have done it. All that has to happen now is for the President of the United States to sign it, and I feel confident he will. I hope what he does is sign it and take credit for a lot of it, because in his State of the Union Address President Bush emphasized the importance of this and talked about his American Competitiveness Initiative 2 years ago. But this is what we have done. We have authorized the spending, over the next 3 years, of $43 billion to help keep our brainpower advantage by investing in science and technology. Most of that -- and this was a part of the President's recommendation -- helps to grow research at our major scientific laboratories and Departments by doubling their research budgets over a 7-year term. That would be the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy Office of Science, which among other things, supervises the great National Laboratories in our country. As I said, the act authorizes a total of $43.3 billion, over the next 3 fiscal years, for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research and education programs across the Federal Government. It will help to prepare thousands of new teachers and provide current teachers with content and teaching skills in their area of education. It will establish an advanced research projects agency for energy -- a nimble and semi-autonomous research agency at the Department of Energy -- to engage in high-risk, high-reward energy research. This is modeled after what we call DARPA at the Department of Defense which produced stealth technology and the Internet. Perhaps we can do the same as we look for new energy technologies. It expands programs at the National Science Foundation to enhance the undergraduate education of our future science and engineering workforce, including at our community colleges. There are many provisions in the bill to broaden participation in science and engineering fields at all levels. There are new competitive grant programs to enable partnerships to implement courses of study in math, science, engineering, technology, and critical foreign languages. There are competitive grants to increase the number of math and science teachers serving high-need schools. The bill expands access to advanced placement courses and international baccalaureate courses by increasing the number of qualified teachers in high-need schools. In other words, in plain English, it will help more children, including those who come from families with less money, have a chance to take the advanced placement courses that will give them a route into college, high achievement, and the ability to produce jobs not just for themselves but for the rest of us. It expands early-career research grant programs. It strengthens interagency planning for research infrastructure. It does all of this. Now, one might say: Where did all these ideas come from? Did the Senator from New Jersey just wander in one day and say, "I have a great idea. Let's stick it in"? Or did the Senator from Arkansas say, "Well, we have a little program over at Little Rock that we all like, so let's have some money for it?” Or did the Senator from Tennessee say, "I was down at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory yesterday, and someone gave me an idea, so let's have $10 million for that?” That is not the way we did it. What we did is, 2 years ago, Senator Bingaman and I, and Representatives Bart Gordon and Sherwood Boehlert of the House of Representatives -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- we literally went to the National Academy of Sciences and we asked this question: Tell us exactly what we need to do to keep our brainpower advantage, to keep our jobs from going to China and India? And they took us seriously. The National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine appointed a distinguished committee of 21 Americans chaired by Norm Augustine, the former Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. On that committee were some of America's most distinguished business leaders, three Nobel laureates, the president emeritus of MIT, teachers, and others, who gave up their summer, reviewed hundreds of proposals, and, in priority order, told us the 20 things we needed to do to keep our brainpower advantage. All of that was presented to us in a booklet called "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," which is now well-known at universities, in schools, and in the business community as a wakeup call for the United States of America. It says we have been good -- in fact, we have been way ahead of the rest of the line -- but if we do not watch out, China, India, Ireland, England, and many of the other countries in the world, are going to catch up with us because there is no preordained right for Americans -- no matter how bright we think we might be -- to produce 30 percent of the world's wealth for just 5 percent of the people. Other people can do the very same thing in their colleges and universities, if they wish. The members of this commission had countless stories to tell that every American who confronts these issues will find. Every Senator who travels to China sees they have recruited a distinguished professor of Chinese descent at an Ivy League university to come home and help improve a Chinese university. That is happening all over the world, and it is creating a much more competitive environment. Last summer, Senator Inouye and Senator Stevens led a delegation of Senators to China. We were very well received because Senator Stevens was the first to fly a cargo plane into Beijing in 1944 at the end of World War II. He was flying with the Flying Tigers. Senator Inouye, of course, was a Congressional Medal of Honor winner in World War II. The Chinese remember well their affection for Americans in that war. So we were treated well and got to see President Hu, and the No. 2 man, Mr. Wu, the Chairman of the National People’s Congress, for an hour each. These were interviews that many American delegations had not had before. What was interesting to me was that in those sessions with the No. 1 and No. 2 man in China, where our conversations ranged from Iraq to Iran to North Korea to Taiwan, all the issues one might expect, the issue that animated the leaders of China the most was their efforts over the next 15 years to create an innovation economy. They wanted to talk about how China caught up with America's brain power advantage because they know their skills, they know they are good, they know they can do it and they did it in their way. The month before, President Hu had walked over to the Great Hall of the People and assembled their National Academies of Science and Engineering and said: We are going on a 15-year innovation plan. We are going to invest 4 percent of our gross domestic product in research and technology. We are going to improve our colleges and our universities and our schools. We are going to create a brain power advantage for China that gives us a higher standard of living. They understand that. We did it a little different way. Two years ago, we walked down to our National Academy of Sciences. We invited them to give us this report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm". We took the recommendations of the Council on Competitiveness which was already working. The President of the United States gave his recommendations in his American Competitiveness Initiative. And then we went to work in the American way. We don't announce 15-year plans here; our way is a little messier. So we had to go through three committees here in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives. I have to thank the senior Members of this body for the attitude they took toward this. For example, Senators Stevens and Inouye, Senators Kennedy and Enzi, Senators Domenici and Bingaman, Democrats and Republicans who put aside 3,000 years of seniority and 200 jurisdictional prerogatives and said: Let's just work together and see if we can get this done across party lines. That is not very interesting to people across the country, all this inside baseball about how the Senate works. But it has to work in order for something such as this to happen. It is not a simple thing to take the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and actually do them in both bodies, and yet that is what we have done. Not only did we start 2 years ago, when this was a Republican Congress, but we passed this legislation during a Democratic Congress almost without missing a step. What happened was a bill that was sponsored by the leaders -- last time it was Frist and Reid; now it is Reid and McConnell. They just changed the names because we had worked so well together -- not only with ourselves but also with the Bush administration -- that it was hard to tell whose bill it was. At one time, this legislation that Senator Domenici and Senator Bingaman first introduced had 35 Republican cosponsors and 35 Democratic cosponsors, and the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, when she was the Democratic leader, was one of the first out to support it. It is especially gratifying to me that Tennesseans, if I may say so, have taken such a role in it in the House of Representatives. Representative Bart Gordon, who is now chairman of the Science Committee, was the lead conferee on this piece of legislation. Representative Zach Wamp, who represents the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, gave I thought the best speech on the House floor today on the Republican side. So again, it was bipartisan. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record at the end of my remarks an overview of the conference report we passed. I mentioned a number of the Senators who had been so deeply involved in this. I mentioned the committee chairmen and the ranking members. But I would like to especially acknowledge the work of Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who was especially effective in reminding Republicans that investments in research and technology and science is as progrowth as tax cuts. Senator Ensign was powerful on that subject. I believe it as strongly as he does. I believe he was more effective than I was. Senator Hutchison had been working with Senator Bingaman for years on advanced placement courses. Senator Mikulski was out front from the very beginning on this. There is an enormous list of Senators who made this happen. There is also a long list of Democratic and Republican staff members who deserve thanks. The list is too long for me to read all those names tonight, but I ask unanimous consent that this list of staff members be printed in the Record following my remarks, with the thanks of all of us for their work. I would like to especially thank Matt Sonnesyn who is sitting here beside me. When I was permitted to be on the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard at the time when the Senator from Arkansas's father was the Director of the Institute of Politics, Matt Sonnesyn was my course assistant. He came with me to my campaign, and then he came with me to the Senate. For the last 2 years, he has worked on this legislation with Senator Bingaman's staff and Senator Ensign's staff on this side -- a tremendously effective staff group who has made this bill possible. I see the Senator from Arkansas here, and I know he is going to close out in a few minutes, and I think I am coming toward the end of my remarks. I would like to conclude by emphasizing two points -- one about substance and one about process. I know the Senator from Arkansas and I have talked about this often. We are working together right now on a bipartisan project that has to do with the Iraq war. We believe there shouldn't be any partisan votes on the Iraq war. For example, we, Senator Salazar and I, are joined by 6 Republicans and 7 Democrats in cosponsoring legislation that would make the bipartisan Iraq Study Group the law of our country. If the Congress and the President would agree on this bill, we could send to our enemy and our troops and the world the message that as we go forward to wherever we go next in Iraq, we go together; we are united. Each Tuesday we have a breakfast that Senator Lieberman and I host -- no staff, no media, no policy positions adopted -- so that in the midst of all our team meetings among Republicans and Democrats, when we talk about what to do to each other, we can have a session where we build relationships and talk about how we move the country ahead. We have had as many as 40 Senators at those breakfasts. It is important for the people of this country to know that we spend a lot of time working that way. We did tonight on the Children's Health Insurance bill with Senator Baucus and Senator Grassley working together in a bipartisan way. For 2 years, we have done that on legislation that goes straight to the heart of how we keep our jobs from going to China and India, which is what we passed tonight. So the word I wish to say about process is that when the Senate tries and when we focus on big issues, we are perfectly capable of acting the way the rest of the country would hope we would act. We compromise on our differences and come up with a result that benefits family after family. This legislation, the America COMPETES Act, will mean, for example, in my home State of Tennessee, opportunities for hundreds of math and science teachers and for thousands of students to go to summer academies and institutes of math and science. It will mean opportunities for thousands of students who now can't afford to take advanced placement courses in science and technology to be able to do so and for hundreds of teachers who aren't trained to teach those courses to have that training. It will mean distinguished scientists will hold joint appointments at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for example. It will mean support for a residential high school for science and math, which we have wanted to do in our State ever since I was Governor 20 years ago but didn't feel like we had the money. Now other States have it, and this bill provides some support for such a school. It will mean a steady growth over 7 years in research funding, new support for early-career research grants in science and technology, and more support for all those kinds of studies that create the jobs that will keep our standard of living. That is what it means for my State. It means the same for New Jersey, and it means the same for Arkansas. So that bipartisan consensus we have seen here happens more often than most Americans know, but it doesn't happen as often as it should. So this has been a privilege for me to work, especially with Senator Bingaman and Senator Domenici on the committee that I was a part of, to help get this started with Bart Gordon, my colleague from the House, the Democratic Congressman who is chairman of the Science Committee, and with all the other Senators. This is the kind of thing I hoped to do when I came to the Senate. I think each of us hopes when we come here to get up every day and do a little something constructive and then go home at night and come back the next day and see if we can find something more to do along that way. If all of us participate in that way in other big issues, as we have in this, the America COMPETES bill, the Senate will be a stronger institution and the country will be a better country. So I thank my colleagues for their support and for the time tonight. I thank the Senator from Arkansas for staying late so I can make these remarks. This legislation, the America COMPETES Act which passed the House today overwhelmingly and passed the Senate unanimously, is at least as important as any piece of legislation that passes in these 2 years because we have accepted the advice of the wisest men and women in our country about what we ought to do to keep our brain power advantage so we can keep our jobs. The President has done a big part of it. I am sure he will sign it. I hope he takes some credit because he deserves it. There is plenty of credit to go around. I think the country will be glad we acted.