Committee on Science and Technology
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Op-Eds :: April 21, 2006

Look Beyond Bush's Rhetoric on Tech to Find Dismal Record [Honda]

Published in the San Jose Mercury News

By MIKE HONDA

President Bush is asleep at the wheel on the information superhighway.

As a candidate, he campaigned in Silicon Valley paying lip service to the importance of technological innovation.

His policy record since has been a triumph of rhetoric over substance, failing to appreciate and support the values that make this area the global high-tech capital.

Silicon Valley is one of the most dynamic regions of the world because we understand the power of investment. Area firms leverage government-funded research and venture capital to develop exciting new technologies.  We invest in quality educational opportunities for our highly skilled workforce and our children.

When Mr. Bush returns today to Silicon Valley, he will tout his American Competitiveness Initiative unveiled in the 2006 State of the Union address.  It is high time for Federal leadership in science and technology, but I am concerned that we are in for more empty promises.

As with many components of the President's initiative, its promises regarding K-12 education appear impressive on the surface, seeking as they do to invest nearly $400 million in math, science and technological programs for America's school children.

Scratch the surface of the sales pitch, however, and the veneer quickly chips away.  That investment is entirely offset - by several orders of magnitude - as a result of $2.1 billion in Republican cuts to the Department of Education budget.

The President's shell game, embraced by Congressional Republicans, helps fund tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans even as 64 percent of our fourth-graders and 70 percent of eighth-graders - our potential next generation of scientists and technology entrepreneurs - test below math proficiency levels.

And the harm caused by such Republican technology policies doesn't stop with education.  Featured prominently in Governor George W. Bush's 2000 Silicon Valley fundraising tour was a commitment to making the research and development (R&D) tax credit permanent.

Six years on, the President has yet to fulfill this promise to the dismay of area technology entrepreneurs who, for every government dollar invested in the tax credit, are able to put $15 into new product R&D.  Without the assurance of permanent R&D tax benefits, however, they are understandably loath to make risky and expensive long-term investments despite the potential they might hold.

And despite Congress' promise to double National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, we are today $5.8 billion shy of that goal.  The President's current budget for this institution so central to fostering our innovative capacity actually cuts $105 million before the 2004 level and is $2.9 billion short of the authorization.

Equally telling is the President's approach to one of the most important economic, educational and social drivers of our times: broadband deployment.

Despite election-year promises to provide affordable high-speed Internet service to every American, the President quite simply has no broadband policy to speak of.  While other countries have made great strides on this front, since Mr. Bush's election in 2000 the United States has fallen from fourth to 12th in global broadband penetration.

As a former high school teacher and principal now representing America's high-technology center in Congress, I am deeply concerned that our children and entrepreneurs are being shortchanged and that, as a result, the United States may lose its edge in the global technology race.

For this reason, I have joined with my Democratic House colleagues to develop an Innovation Agenda, a commitment to competitiveness to keep America No. 1.

Along with high-technology, venture capital, academic, biotech and telecommunications leaders, we have committed ourselves to guaranteeing affordable broadband access for all Americans, achieving energy independence in 10 years, educating 100,000 new scientists, engineers and mathematicians in the next four years and placing a highly qualified teacher in every math and science K-12 classroom.

To achieve these ambitious, crucial results, Democrats will double overall NSF funding and modernize and permanently extend a globally competitive R&D tax credit to increase domestic investment, among other efforts.

The nation has long looked to Silicon Valley for inspiration and leadership.  Democrats have offered an Innovation Agenda that is worthy of the region's achievements and future potential.  I only wish the President could do likewise.

No less than our nation's future is at stake.  We cannot afford to squander more precious time.


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