On Monday, September 21, President Barack Obama visited Hudson Valley Community College to deliver a speech on his administration’s strategy to foster new jobs and promote innovation during the ongoing economic downturn.
“Communities like [Troy] were once the heart of America’s manufacturing strength,” Obama said. “But over the last few decades, you’ve borne the brunt of a changing economy … that’s driven more and more young people from their hometowns.”
“There are those who suggest … that what we’ve seen in places like Troy is inevitable; that somehow, the parts of our country that helped us lead in the last century don’t have what it takes to help us lead in this one. I am here today to tell you that this is just flat-out wrong. What we have here is a community filled with talented people, entrepreneurial small businesses, and world-class learning institutions. The ingredients are here for growth and success and a better future.”
Obama outlined his administration’s strategy to jump-start the economy and set the nation on track to regain its prominence in science and technology. The strategy is divided into three “building blocks of innovation”: education, infrastructure, and research.
According to Obama, student loan subsidies cost taxpayers over $80 billion annually, and by reorganizing the system, that money could be put toward increasing the federal Pell Grant program. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put a more conservative estimate on the savings at $47 billion.
The House voted last Thursday 253-171 in favor of the bill Obama referred to, which would increase the maximum Pell Grant by $1,400 to $6,900 over the next decade.
Obama also spoke of introducing a $2,500 tax credit for college tuition and simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Under the new changes, financial aid would be calculated based on current estimated income, not previously reported taxable income.
The president said his American Graduation Initiative would reform community colleges to graduate an additional 5 million Americans within the next decade. “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
The Office of Financial Aid could not be reached for comment on the proposed changes.
Obama next explained his plans for infrastructure, which primarily revolve around increasing broadband speed and availability throughout the United States. The president highlighted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposal to preserve net neutrality. The proposal covers two new principles to promote an open Internet: The first prevents Internet service providers from discriminating against specific content or applications, and the second requires that these providers be transparent regarding network management practices, such as deep packet inspection and port filtering.
Obama also mentioned the importance of finding “ways technology can … help government do a better and more efficient job.” To this end, Obama has appointed the first chief technology officer to his staff, and has seen the establishment of a significant government Web presence, including online town halls and new websites such as http://www.recovery.gov/. Obama said he has also proposed grants through the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to explore “communications breakthroughs” and “the networks we’ll want tomorrow.”
The last segment of Obama’s speech centered on research, emphasizing the benefits of basic science. The president admonished the private sector for under-investing in basic research and praised his Recovery Act for directing billions of dollars toward researchers.
“When we fail to invest in research, we fail to invest in the future. Yet, since the peak of the Space Race in the 1960s, our national commitment to research and development has steadily fallen as a share of our national income. That’s why I have set a goal of putting a full 3 percent of our Gross Domestic Product and our national income into research and development, surpassing the commitment we made when President Kennedy challenged this nation to send a man to the moon.”
Obama said his budget makes tax credits for research and experimentation permanent, while eliminating the capital gains tax on investments in small businesses. While these incentives promote entrepreneurship, Obama said there is more to be done in this area, such as reforming intellectual property laws.
As expected, Obama stressed the importance of health insurance reform, saying it would be especially good for small business by lowering costs. He detailed steps to digitize health records, which he says gives patients “the chance to be more active participants in the prevention and treatment of illness.”
“I firmly believe that the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy,” he said, explaining steps to build a “smarter electric grid” and to double the nation’s capacity to generate renewable energy.
“We’re investing in technologies to power a new generation of clean-energy vehicles. We’ve helped reach an agreement to raise fuel economy standards. And for the first time in history, we’ve passed a bill to create a system of clean energy incentives which will help make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy in America while helping to end our dependence on oil.”
In closing his speech, the president expressed the need for young people to seize educational opportunities to change the world and improve lives through research and technological innovation.
Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson, who serves on Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, was in attendance, along with Chief of Staff and Associate Vice President for Policy and Planning Laban Coblentz and other cabinet members. Only about 350 tickets were distributed for the event.