Biden Again Pitches Expanded Federal Research Investments to Keep U.S. Competitive

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress April 28.

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress April 28. Melina Mara/The Washington Post via AP

“China and other countries are closing in fast,” the president said during his first Congressional address.

President Joe Biden repeated prior commitments and expanded on his broad agenda that involves investing heavily in America’s research and technology landscape during his first formal address to Congress on Wednesday night. 

The administration’s recently proposed American Jobs Plan includes the biggest increase in nondefense research and development on record, he noted. 

“We will see more technological change in the next 10 years than we saw in the last 50—that’s how rapidly artificial intelligence and so much more is changing. And we’re falling behind in that competition with the rest of the world,” Biden said. “Decades ago, we used to invest 2% of our [gross domestic product in America] on research and development. Today, we spend less than 1%. China and other countries are closing in fast. We have to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future: advanced batteries, biotechnology, computer chips and clean energy.”

Under that plan, billions of dollars would be put toward basic research, federally focused innovation and increasingly critical technologies. Calling it “a blue-collar blueprint to build America,” Biden said the proposal would produce jobs to grow America’s economy and upgrade its transportation and communications infrastructure. 

“It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed internet, including 35% of rural Americans who still don’t have it,” he noted, adding, “this will help our kids and businesses succeed in a 21st-century economy.”

Jobs to lay thousands of miles of transmission lines needed to build a resilient and fully clean grid would also be prompted by the plan, the president noted, adding that he’s asked Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the effort.

“Our grids are vulnerable to storms, hacks and catastrophic failures—with tragic results as we saw in Texas and elsewhere during winter storms,” Biden said. The U.S. will additionally work with like-minded allies in these efforts. He noted that, "no one nation can deal with all the crises of our time alone—from terrorism to nuclear proliferation to mass migration, cybersecurity, climate change—and as we’re experiencing now, pandemics.” 

Just as the Pentagon launched the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop breakthroughs to enhance America’s national security, which “led to the internet and GPS and so much more,” Biden said the National Institutes of Health should create a similar Advanced Research Projects Agency for health. That hub would develop health breakthroughs to prevent and detect diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer.

The president reiterated that he’s responded in a direct way to Russia’s interference in U.S. elections and cyber intrusions against government agencies and businesses. He said he’ll work to help protect American technologies and intellectual property from theft. Biden also recounted talks with China’s President Xi Jinping. “I told him that we welcome the competition—and that we are not looking for conflict. But I made absolutely clear that I will defend American interests across the board,” he said.

Pointing to his American Families Plan, which he proposed Wednesday, Biden articulated his aims to guarantee two years of universal high-quality preschool for every 3- and 4- year-old in America—and two years of free community college, making the argument that 12 years of school is no longer enough to compete globally.

“Any country that out educates us is going to outcompete us,” he said. 

Raising the top tax bracket for the wealthiest 1% of Americans—those making $400,000 or more—would be a key to making these investments possible, the president said. There’s likely a long way to go before a bipartisan funding agreement is reached, but he noted that “investments in jobs and infrastructure like the ones” his administration is proposing have garnered such support across the aisle in the past.

“I applaud a group of Republican senators who just put forward their own proposal. So, let's get to work. I wanted to lay out before the Congress, my plan before we got into the deep discussions. I like to meet those who have ideas that are different that they think are better,” Biden said. “I welcome those ideas, but the rest of the world is not waiting for us. I just want to be clear, from my perspective, doing nothing is not an option.”