Volume 89 Issue 5 | p. 7 | News of The Week
Issue Date: January 31, 2011

Betting On Innovation, Education

State Of The Union: Obama lays out how U.S. should adapt to a changed world
Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: State Of The Union, President Barack Obama
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Obama underscored energy and education during his State of the Union address this week as Vice President Joseph Biden (left) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) looked on.
Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool/Newscom
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Obama underscored energy and education during his State of the Union address this week as Vice President Joseph Biden (left) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) looked on.
Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool/Newscom

Science, technology, education, clean energy, and jobs topped President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Jan. 25. Obama's annual speech to Congress was similar to last year's; this year, however, his continued support for government spending on technology to spur innovation stood out sharply in the face of a rejuvenated Republican Party that is vigorously seeking a limited role for government and less federal spending.

Obama underscored the jobs that have sprung from past government R&D investments, such as those based on the Internet. Future spending for science and technology, he said, will determine whether "new jobs and industries take root in this country or somewhere else."

"This is our generation's Sputnik moment," Obama said, referring to the 1960s space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But today, Obama continued, rather than federal spending for outer space, the focus should be on "biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology," emphasizing that they "will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people."

The U.S. might have the world's most productive workers and the best colleges and universities, Obama said, but the country faces a "changed world" with new competitors, such as India and China, that are investing heavily in research and new technologies and emphasizing education, particularly in science and math.

America's mission is "to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world," he said. "We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business."

Although silent on climate change, the President tied clean and renewable energy products and markets to new jobs and to American innovations. He laid out a goal that by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources, which he defined as wind and solar as well as nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas.

To help fund these government projects, Obama repeated his past request that Congress eliminate tax subsidies for oil, natural gas, and other fossil-fuel-based industries. "Instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's," he said. The Administration estimated last year that elimination of oil subsidies would generate $2.7 billion annually.

The President also called for a five-year freeze in domestic spending but urged that these cuts not come by "gutting our investments in innovation and education," which he compared with cutting the load of an airplane by dropping its engine. For America's success, education will be key, the President continued. "We need to teach kids it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair," he said.

In a call to action, Obama challenged Congress to approve a South Korean trade agreement that has stalled for several years (C&EN, Jan. 24, page 27). He also advocated for the passage of two other key trade pacts with Colombia and Panama. Such agreements will help meet the President's goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015.

Details of the President's vision will become clearer next month when he delivers his budget proposal for fiscal 2012 to Congress.

After Obama's speech, the Republican Party offered a sharp rebuttal. "Limited government and free enterprise have helped make America the greatest nation on Earth," said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), speaking for the party. "We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy and create millions of new jobs and opportunities for all people, of every background, to succeed and prosper."

 
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