"Competitiveness" Policy Takes Partisan Turn in the House

By Cameron
February 14, 2006

Over the past couple of weeks I have covered (1,2) President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative. By and large, the response to this plan was bipartisan because he was embracing ideas that already had bipartisan champions in the Senate and were broadly supported by industry and the academic community. The House is another matter.

Today the House Democrats held an “innovation” town hall meeting (with George Lucas as the media draw, no less) to discuss their agenda. In addition, the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote a column (sub. required) for yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and released a letter today to the White House asking for a bipartisan meeting to push this agenda forward. In the letter, the only thing she quibbled with was President Bush’s overall budget request, but even she recognized his increased commitment to funding research and math and science education:

“While your budget proposal submitted to Congress this week devoted some federal dollars to innovation, House Democrats believe more must be done. We pledge to work with you to close the funding gap to ensure that these crucial initiatives receive adequate funding in the next fiscal year.”

It looked like this issue was going to be something people might fight on the margins about, but everyone could push for. So it was bit surprising to see the reaction from the House Republican Leadership to the Democrats’ event today (excerpt):

“At a media event, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats joined Hollywood filmmaker George Lucas to promote an “Innovation Agenda” that is nothing more than a laundry list of federal government-driven programs which represent the same old recipe for federal micromanagement of the economy — more spending, higher taxes, and “targeted” relief to favored political constituencies.”

A bidding war on this issue (“We want to double NSF and math and science teachers in 10 years.” “No we can do it in 5!”) is one thing, slamming the actual policies outright is troubling. The Republican release makes the point that the Democrats have opposed a slew of bills that would help American businesses compete. Fair enough, but how do President Bush’s proposals for new spending line up with the Democrats’? (The actual proposals are broader than just R&D and Education, but that is where most of the new spending lies.)

Issue Area President Bush’s Proposal House Democrats
Funding for R&D Double funding for the “physical science agencies” (NSF, Dept. of Energy Office of Science, NIST Core Labs) over 10 years Double funding the physical sciences at all agencies in 5 years
  • 300 grants for schools to implement research-based math curricula and interventions
  • 10,000 more scientists, students, post-doctoral fellows, and technicians provided opportunities to contribute to the innovation enterprise
  • 100,000 highly qualified math and science teachers by 2015
  • 700,000 advanced placement tests passed by low-income students
  • Educate 100,000 new scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in the next four years
  • Place a highly qualified teacher in every math and science K-12 classroom.
  • Create a special visa for the best and brightest international doctoral and postdoctoral scholars in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  • Make college tuition tax-deductible for students studying math, science, technology, and engineering.

There are differences, but the similarities are striking. We aren’t sure what to make of the House Leadership’s comments yet. Clearly this is troubling for those interested in moving the American Competitiveness Initiative through the House and Senate, but it doesn’t spell doom for it yet.