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Leading Companies, Universities Urge Senate to Pass 'COMPETES' Act

A collection of some 250 corporations, universities, and professional associations are urging Senate leaders to hurry up and complete work on legislation to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, which includes a strong emphasis on improving STEM education.

They call on lawmakers to act in time that a bill could reach President Obama's desk before the 111th Congress comes to a close in early January (and presumably Congress would have to start over).

But this may be a tall order, given that last week's elections brought a political sea change to Capitol Hill, with Republicans seizing a majority in the House and making strong gains in the Senate. Most House Republicans voted "no" on the reauthorization bill approved by that chamber in May, arguing that the price tag—all told, some $86 billion over five years—was too high.

A companion version was passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this summer, but has never reached that chamber's floor.

The letter to Senate leaders says: "Sustaining ... investments in research, and developing a highly educated, scientifically literate workforce are both essential to our country's continued success in making the scientific discoveries and developing the cutting-edge technologies that will propel our economy in the future."

The letter was signed by seven individuals, including Paul S. Otellini, the president and CEO of Intel Corp.; the president of Carnegie Mellon University; and former Michigan Gov. John Engler, the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. Beyond that, a long list of universities, companies, and other organizations are identified as endorsing the letter.

Further in the letter, there's a nod to concerns about cost:: "We recognize the dire fiscal challenge facing the nation and the difficult choices on federal spending that policymakers must make," the letter says. "Continued strong funding of basic research and STEM education programs will help ensure the economic growth needed to restore long-term fiscal strength and national prosperity."

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