April 27, 2007 11:08 AM PDT

Republicans break ranks to oppose tech-backed bill

Votes in Congress this week to increase government spending on math and science education and research programs might seem as uncontroversial a political statement as renaming federal courthouses or post offices.

After all, both major parties generally backed the proposals in dueling technology-related agendas touted this week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a Senate Republican High Tech Task Force. President Bush also endorsed the ideas as part of his State of the Union address last year and continued to angle for increased research spending in next year's budget.

But beneath non-controversial political paeans to improving American competitiveness, a rift has formed over traditional lines: more government spending vs. fiscal restraint. Some Republicans are questioning whether the best way to ensure the nation stays ahead of India and China is to pour billions of taxpayer dollars (paid for by tax increases or deficit spending) into government programs whose effectiveness is in doubt.

"Almost every year, there seems to be a new effort to increase interest in math and science, and that doesn't happen by spending money," said Tom Schatz, president of the advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste. "The government is not good at steering people or creating jobs or pushing them in a certain direction. Kids who are being educated find their own level of interest."

Related story
Missing: Politicians who take clear stand on tech
Republicans and Democrats tout "high-tech agendas" but remain silent on key topics like privacy, Net neutrality.

Some opponents of the bills said Congress would be better off reducing corporate income taxes, instituting a permanent research and development tax credit, making changes to the patent system, and relaxing trade laws and export controls.

"For America to truly compete in a global economy, we have to do better than the knee-jerk Washington solution of throwing more money at government programs," said Wesley Denton, a spokesman for Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of eight Republicans who voted against a massive Senate bill that calls for nearly $60 billion--$16 billion of it new spending--for educational and research programs in math, science, engineering and technology. DeMint is also a member of the High Tech Task Force.

The America Competes Act, which numbers more than 200 pages, was backed by top leaders from both parties, enjoys a whopping 69 Senate co-sponsors, and has received accolades from high-tech companies. The bill proposes numerous new programs and spending increases, including doubling funding at the National Science Foundation from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion over four years, allotting $140 million in federal grants over the next four years to help states open math and science specialty high schools, and setting aside $190 million over the next four years for summer programs at national laboratories.

Yet critics argue that there is no evidence that increased spending helps students, and point to examples like Washington, D.C., which has some of the highest per-pupil spending and some of the worst test scores. A better alternative, they say, would be school choice that effectively forces schools to compete with one another over quality.

Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), also a member of the High Tech Task Force, was likewise "unable to support it in the end because he doesn't think America can be competitive if we're burdened by outrageous sums of national debt," spokesman Steve Wymer said in a telephone interview. The decision did not reflect a condemnation of the programs themselves--in fact, the senator supports many of the educational programs outlined in the bill--but "if you can't afford something, you can't afford it," he added.

The bills' sponsors say enactment of the legislation is critical to ensuring the United States turns out an ample number of homegrown scientists, engineers and technologists.

In the House of Representatives, an overlapping group of Republicans voted against two measures hailed as part of Pelosi's Innovation Agenda. (Not one Democrat joined them.)

"Both bills passed by overwhelming margins, reflecting the strong bipartisan support they enjoy across the nation," said Brendan Daly, a Pelosi spokesman.

One bill, which passed by a 389-22 vote, seeks to meet the goal of increasing by 10,000 each year the number of qualified math and science teachers in American schools by, among other things, setting aside nearly $700 million over the next five years to run a scholarship program for training teachers. The other bill, which passed by a 397-20 vote, includes nearly $300 million in new scholarships for undergraduate scholarships in math, science, engineering and technology fields.

Again, the opposition was largely rooted in the ventures' price tag--and in concerns that the bills would lead to more bureaucracy and erode states' control over their school systems.

A spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a former educator and libertarian think tank leader, said his boss voted against both bills not only because they proposed spending billions of federal dollars but also because they directed states to do certain levels of hiring.

"If the states have any sort of budget issues in the future, it doesn't change the hiring directives," said spokesman Carlos Espinosa. "Then the federal government will essentially have to put these new educators on the federal payroll."

CONTINUED: More H-1B visas…
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21 comments

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Math is the key to a secure future
Real programs that promote math needs to happen. The drop is mathematics proficiency in the US is directly related to the decline of the US.

4 years of math should be required for everyone in high school, even if they never go past algebra.

Tuition waivers or student loan forgiveness should be given to students in real mathematical disciplines, no buiness programs do not count, who maintain a reasonably decent GPA, say 3.0. These types of programs include the various engineering programs, physics, chemistry, computer science, math(duh), etc. These are the fields that will propel America ahead in the future. Ignoring these areas will cause a bleak future.

To those that think there are no jobs in these areas in America, I call BS. As a very near computer science grad, I can get a job anywhere in the US easily, at wages sometimes twice the national average for entry level college degree required jobs.

Outsourcing and all that other stuff generally affected those people who did not have a good enough background anyway. These fields are generally in a constant state of change, so a solid grasp of the fundamentals and theories are REQUIRED to be able to transition with the industry. If you learned enough of a language to get a job, and nothing more, you have only yourself to blame.

The mathematical incompetence I have seen displayed by college graduates and seniors is astounding, even in basic mathematics like algebra, trig and calculus. Yes, kids general calculus is not advanced mathematics, it is a freshman level series of classes.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
attitudes towards education
Mathematics is the language of universe. If humanity has to really understand the world and the univerese , we should be eloquent in Mathematics. Unfortunately, I have seen too much accepted "ignorance" of Mathematics in US. But again, it begs the question.. tax dollars are poured in to DC and Detriot school systems, DC has the highest per-capita expenditure on student, but the best and the brightest are not comming from DC school systems. So, more money does not equals good results.

I have personally observed not all americans view that education is ticket to economic improvement. There are communities which invest more in their football team than providing real education to the kids. As long as there are teachers unions and tutoring is not an affordable option for many students it is basically does not produce the massive results. Money cannot buy everything, and certainly US education system is not short on investment dollars interms of money. It is matter of
1. improving efficiency of the system
2. providing alternatives (alternative sources/ tutoring etc.) of knowledge
3. encouragement in poor/rural communities towards education

Many things have to come together inorder to produce effective results, but nothing beats the culture that values and respects education and a good teacher.
Posted by YankeePoodle (785 comments )
Link Flag
Math isn't for everyone
I don't think you can force people to take math beyond a certain level in high school. Proficiency in math requires that you spend a lot of time learning all the rules and details. Many people find this really painful and/or boring. I am graduate student in computer science and have done my share of math. We should focus our efforts on fostering interest and supporting those who chose to go into the math heavy sciences. Part of the problem is that in our society, science oriented people are labelled "geeks" and looked down upon. This is not true for many other cultures and societies (like China and India for example). Until this stereotype fades, interesting our youth in the sciences will remain a challenge.
Posted by C_G_K (169 comments )
Link Flag
Basic book keeping
No, I don't agree that Calculus is not advanced math. I do agree that college students should at least absorb the basic concepts.

A more serious problem, IMO, is a lack of basic book keeping skills and knowledge of how to apply the concepts personally.

Consider how much money a student wastes by paying a professor to degress out of the subject matter and into some unrelated social nonsense. The student does not learn the material and fails to get or keep a job that pays enough to pay off the student loan, never mind the wealth they visualized upon graduation. The majority of students don't even realize who is robbing them and end up blaming every one but the guilty.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Give corporations tax breaks?
Yeah, that will help the mathematics problems in the US. Only a republican could suggest that.

Patent reform is needed, but I fear the "reforms" will only increase the advantage to large corporations at the detriment of true innovation.

The government seems to have forgotten the original point of patents and copyright: to allow innovative individuals to temporarily benefit, then whatever was patented or copyrighted goes into the public domain.

It is not an anti-competition and anti-innovation tool.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
H1-B's are a band-aid
They are covering up the fact that there are not enough properly skilled workers in the US.

Emphasis on properly.
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
Reply Link Flag
H1-B are not helpful
If American companies have to compete using foreign workers, how does that make America - itself - competitive. On the one hand, it doesn't raise the standard of living for Americans across the board (reserving that for the relatively small segment that buy into the stock market), and on the other, employing foreign workers necessarily transfers intellectual capital. Those workers can go home and set up the competition for the American companies. This isn't, in and of itself, a bad thing, but it seems counter-productive if the goal is to increase America's competitive position.
Posted by rdean (119 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Standard of Living
Subsidizing failure with "social safety nets", and tenure for college professors, improves nothing. Achievement should be praised and encouraged, failure and losing condemned.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Glad to see some fiscal responsibility
I think the sentiment that throwing money at education will fix whatever problems that may exist to be refreshing. Every year, we hear politicians at federal and state levels talking about how we need to fix education and throw more money at it. If throwing money at education was the cure, then we would have no ills given the amount of seemingly ever-increasing money that gets sent that way. Thanks to these Republicans for standing up for fiscal responsibility. Now, if the rest of the spendthrifts in the party could learn from that example, we might get some solid fiscal conservatism back in the GOP!
Posted by GraysonBuzz (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The h-1b program is being used to offshore U.S. jobs
The h-1b program causes 10 times more offshoring of U.S. jobs than it eliminates.

The h-1b program is a legal restriction (not a free-market tool) it creates a class of people that are afraid to leave their employer.

In open testimony before congress, a job applicant was not considered for a job, simply because she could not be sponsored on an h-1b visa.

The George Bush Department of Labor did nothing about this well-witnessed case of open discrimination against a U.S. worker, who was denied the ability to even apply for a job, a job located in the United States, simply because their point of origin was the United States.

Competition for h-1b jobs is not free, nor fair, because the foreign candidates (in several completely unrelated areas) enjoy an artificial legal classification that makes them preferable to U.S. Citizens.

All workers are asking for is to open this market to U.S. citizens, for a fair competition for jobs. Some employers (such as Wipro, Tata...) do not want this to occur. It's not surprising that these same IT Offshoring firms are the biggest users of h-1b visas.

The Indian Commerce Minister himself referred to the h-1b visa, as the "Outsourcing Visa".

It is clear that Indian IT Offshoring firms prefer the h-1b Visa, because they can keep control over their employees, and then bring them home in order to continue the offshoring process.

Offshoring, errodes the tax base. This errosion of the tax-base is helping to create a huge annual budget deficit. Because spending has been based upon rosier than reality projections of national income growth.

Sadly, Republicans have a history of makeing tax-cuts and then predicting a balanced budget based upon a rosier than reality growth in U.S. Income. This never happens, and so that is why the american people are stuck with an 8 trillion (almost 9 trillion) dollar national debt, that is growing rapidly.

Half of a typical engineers salary goes to taxes. Taxes that defend the world from terrorism, keep our senior citizens healthy, keep up our infrastructure, and keep up our fire and police departments.

And that pay a huge service on the National debt.

We need to treat this country like a business (a little fairness on the part of traitorious business interests could go a long way), and because India and China already treat their economies as a business. We need to realize (fundamentally and deeply) that we need full employment in the U.S. at all times. One default by the U.S. government, and the world will be slung into a recession, possibly a severe depression.

Hey Japan had a 2% unemployment rate for a decade, what the heck is wrong with everyone working? Inflation in the U.S. is also a function of resources and productivity. Instead of preaching about the value of being unemployed, I think Republicans ought to start think a little more positive.

Namely, conserve resources, increase productivity.

The h-1b program is clearly being used to practice open discrimination against U.S. workers. We cannot tolerate this kind of bigotry in United States, the Congress must do something to stop it.
Posted by Jake Leone (143 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The h-1b program is being used to offshore U.S. jobs
The h-1b program causes 10 times more offshoring of U.S. jobs than it eliminates.

The h-1b program is a legal restriction (not a free-market tool) it creates a class of people that are afraid to leave their employer.

In open testimony before congress, a job applicant was not considered for a job, simply because she could not be sponsored on an h-1b visa.

The George Bush Department of Labor did nothing about this well-witnessed case of open discrimination against a U.S. worker, who was denied the ability to even apply for a job, a job located in the United States, simply because their point of origin was the United States.

Competition for h-1b jobs is not free, nor fair, because the foreign candidates (in several completely unrelated areas) enjoy an artificial legal classification that makes them preferable to U.S. Citizens.

All workers are asking for is to open this market to U.S. citizens, for a fair competition for jobs. Some employers (such as Wipro, Tata...) do not want this to occur. It's not surprising that these same IT Offshoring firms are the biggest users of h-1b visas.

The Indian Commerce Minister himself referred to the h-1b visa, as the "Outsourcing Visa".

It is clear that Indian IT Offshoring firms prefer the h-1b Visa, because they can keep control over their employees, and then bring them home in order to continue the offshoring process.

Offshoring, errodes the tax base. This errosion of the tax-base is helping to create a huge annual budget deficit. Because spending has been based upon rosier than reality projections of national income growth.

Sadly, Republicans have a history of makeing tax-cuts and then predicting a balanced budget based upon a rosier than reality growth in U.S. Income. This never happens, and so that is why the american people are stuck with an 8 trillion (almost 9 trillion) dollar national debt, that is growing rapidly.

Half of a typical engineers salary goes to taxes. Taxes that defend the world from terrorism, keep our senior citizens healthy, keep up our infrastructure, and keep up our fire and police departments.

And that pay a huge service on the National debt.

We need to treat this country like a business (a little fairness on the part of traitorious business interests could go a long way), and because India and China already treat their economies as a business. We need to realize (fundamentally and deeply) that we need full employment in the U.S. at all times. One default by the U.S. government, and the world will be slung into a recession, possibly a severe depression.

Hey Japan had a 2% unemployment rate for a decade, what the heck is wrong with everyone working? Inflation in the U.S. is also a function of resources and productivity. Instead of preaching about the value of being unemployed, I think Republicans ought to start think a little more positive.

Namely, conserve resources, increase productivity.

The h-1b program is clearly being used to practice open discrimination against U.S. workers. We cannot tolerate this kind of bigotry in United States, the Congress must do something to stop it.
Posted by Jake Leone (143 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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