Innovation Hawks Warn Against Torching America’s Seed Corn

March 3, 2011 | Devon Swezey,

As the Congressional Republicans continue to push cuts to critical federal investments in innovation, two more prominent voices have joined a growing group of innovation hawks on both sides of the aisle seeking to preserve or even increase federal funding for science and technology.

The first is noted political commentator Mort Kondrake, who wrote recently in Roll Call that the GOP is threatening to "torch America's seed corn" by cutting federal technology investment. Kondrake, a long-time contributor to Fox News and Executive Editor of Roll Call, notes that the Republicans' budget bill would cut funding for scientific research agencies by more than 33 percent, at a time when countless science and technology experts argue that we must increase such investments to spur economic growth. As Kondrake notes, the GOP budget proposal would abandon the long, bipartisan history of federal investment in American innovation:

Republican priorities represent not just a repudiation of President Barack Obama's proposed increases for science -- 10 percent for energy, 13 percent for the NSF, 15 percent for NIST -- but of a bipartisan process started in 2005 to secure a doubling of hard science research.

Kondrake notes that such investments have been responsible for many of today's most innovative technologies--which the Breakthrough Institute documented extensively in "Where Good Technologies Come From,"--including "federally backed research that decoded the human genome, leading to biotechnology breakthroughs, and integrated circuits and GPS, leading to computers, cell phones, iPods, CT scans and electronic books."

Also burnishing his innovation hawk credentials is Duke Energy's Jim Rogers, the CEO of the soon-to-be-largest utility in the country, who has gotten squarely behind an energy innovation agenda to drive down the real costs of low-carbon energy technologies. In an interview with Time Magazine's Bryan Walsh, Rogers urges much greater federal investment in energy research and development:

"Just a sliver of our national budget goes to research. If we can't get a consensus on carbon policy, let's put the money into research and let's drive down the cost of solar and wind and make them competitive. Think about how much it would change the debate if solar and wind were as cheap as coal?"

As Walsh notes, Rogers' support for cap and trade was key to getting many in the business community behind the failed effort. Rogers' pivot to an energy innovation and investment agenda could also help its political prospects in Congress. But with House Republicans bent on cutting all investment at all costs, this is surely an uphill battle.

As reasoned, influential voices join the ranks of innovation hawks seeking to preserve critical technology investment, can Congressional deficit hawks recognize the error of torching America's seed corn? If not, U.S. technology leadership and economic growth will surely suffer.

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