Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Competitiveness Amendment

Posted on March 21, 2007

Mr. President, I congratulate the Senator from New Mexico. He has been working at this a long time. He helped originate the report by the National Academy of Sciences to which he referred, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." He has also performed a service to the Senate and the country by doing some of the hard, less glamorous work, because he has worked his way through the budget process and, in his words, we are making sure with this amendment that we have room in the budget to appropriate funds to support what I believe is the single most important legislation before the Congress this year; that is the America COMPETES Act which has been introduced by the Democratic leader, Senator Reid, and by the Republican leader, Senator McConnell. At one stage in its development over the last 2 years it had 70 Senators, an equal number of both parties, supporting it and has been vetted and worked on by at least a half dozen of our committees. I thank Senator Bingaman for his long-time leadership on this effort, especially for making sure there is room in the budget for it. On this side of the aisle, we talk a lot about progrowth policies and progrowth investments. We usually mean tax cuts when we talk about that. I learned a long time ago that while low taxes and balanced budgets are one important part of a progrowth strategy, they are not the only important part. When I was Governor of my State, the Senator from New Hampshire was Governor of his State. That is a low-tax State. It was nearly as low a tax State as Tennessee when we were both Governors. That was important. But we also found out in Tennessee that if we wanted an auto industry, we had to have good four-lane highways. If we wanted to grow new jobs, we wanted to have a good banking. That was part of a progrowth strategy. But more than anything else, the most important part of a progrowth strategy in my State was schools, colleges, and universities. We learned that better schools, colleges, and universities meant better jobs. So this legislation we are talking about is about America's brainpower advantage. It is the reason why we produce a third of all the money for about 5 percent of all the people in the world. It is because of the big ideas that have come out of our country. From the automobile, to the electric light bulb, to Google – they have been created here. The jobs are here and the standard of living is higher here. But the rest of the world has figured that out. They have the same brains we do, and suddenly China is recruiting the most distinguished Chinese professors from great American universities to come back to China to build up China. You heard what Senator Bingaman said about what is happening in India. We are talking about a little money for progrowth investments here. We would make room for $1 billion the President requested -- that the President requested -- to restore funding for basic scientific research in math and science education so we can keep our brainpower advantage. This is the real way to keep our good jobs from going to China and India and other countries in the world. It is important to keep that $1 billion over the next year in perspective. That is half what we spend in the war in Iraq in a week. We spent $237 billion on debt last year, $378 billion on Medicare, $545 billion on Social Security, at least $70 billion on hurricanes. We are going to be asked to pass a $100 billion supplemental request for the war in Iraq. We will not have enough money to pay all these important bills unless we keep enough money in the budget for the investments that keep our brainpower advantage so we can keep our jobs. That is where we get all that money. The Bingaman-Alexander amendment would help make room for the $1 billion requested by the President to fund basic research in math and science education. Specifically, one, it would restore $398 million for the National Science Foundation, bringing the total to $6.429 billion, as requested by the President. Two, it restores $610 million for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, bringing the total to $4.481 billion, which meets the President's request, and then adds $70 million extra for three programs that are part of the Reid-McConnell America COMPETES Act: Discovery institutes, PACE Graduate Fellows, and Distinguished Scientists. It adds $11 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as authorized for next year by the Reid-McConnell legislation. The majority leader and the minority leader, in the midst of some contentious discussions in the Senate -- which we have regularly -- are rising above that and putting this piece of legislation into play. I know of no other piece of legislation that has that kind of bipartisan support that is that important to the future of our country. It is based on work Senator Bingaman, Senator Domenici, Senator Mikulski, Senator Ensign, Senator Lieberman, Senator Hutchison, and many others have been a part of. Senator Frist and Senator Reid put the bill in, in the first place, toward the end of last year. It began because Senator Bingaman and I and others walked down the street to the National Academy of Sciences and said: Please tell us exactly what we ought to do, in priority order, to keep our brainpower advantage. Give us 10 specific things to do. They gave us 20, in priority order. That was put together with other important work done by the Council on Competitiveness. Then here we are today with the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report and with the Council on Competitiveness’ report. The bill, the America COMPETES Act, to which this amendment relates, authorizes $16 billion in new spending over 4 years. But this is a significant savings over the original legislation, the one that was sponsored by 70 Senators and reported by the committees. We took out $3 billion from the bills passed by Energy and Commerce. We avoided a number of duplicative undergraduate scholarship programs. We wanted progrowth investment, but we wanted to do it wisely and prudently. I wish to conclude my remarks with some of the provisions of the America COMPETES Act. I know the Senator from South Carolina is waiting to speak, and others will be speaking, too, so I will conclude my remarks quickly. But it includes such matters as doubling funding for the National Science Foundation. It will set the Department of Energy's Office of Science on track to double in funding over 10 years. It will strengthen the skills of thousands of math and science teachers, and others. One more point. We asked our National Academies what to do to keep our brainpower advantage. We worked 2 years through various committees and many changes to bring our legislation to this point. We still have some way to go, although a parallel path is being pursued in a bipartisan way in the House. I believe we will get there, and get there soon, with this kind of leadership. But we should realize President Hu of China walked over to the National Academy of Sciences in China last July, and they do things in a little different way. He announced to his joint academy meeting in the Great Hall of the People exactly what China's innovation effort would be over the next 10 years, how they are going to increase their percentage investment in the gross domestic product, how they are going to improve their universities and elementary and secondary schools, and exactly what they would do to recruit distinguished Chinese leaders to come back, because they know their brainpower advantage, to the extent they can develop and improve on it, is the most important aspect of creating good jobs and a higher standard of living here. So this legislation is a step in that direction for us. We have much more to do. We have the research and development tax credit to make permanent. We have provisions in the immigration legislation which have passed once, which I hope pass again, to in-source brainpower, to give a preference to people with high skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. Let them stay here, create jobs here instead of in other countries. We are going to continue to work on that. But Senator Bingaman has, by his leadership and persistence, come up with an amendment, which I join him in cosponsoring, which will make room for funding. We need to properly support the America COMPETES Act that Senator Reid and Senator McConnell have cosponsored, along with 40 of us right now. Hopefully, we will be keeping that brainpower advantage and, therefore, keeping our good jobs.