The Candidates and Technology

Oct. 23, 2008
Our presidential candidates’ views on technological issues of the day.

With the presidential elections nearing, Machine Design wants to give its audience a look at Senators’ McCain (R-AZ) and Obama (D-IL) views on issues that affect engineers. We’ve also included the views of onetime candidate Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), a somewhat contrarian, somewhat libertarian politician who gathered a considerable following during his candidacy for President.

Energy policy
McCain: He wants to end the moratorium on offshore drilling for both oil and natural gas. He does not support windfall taxes on the energy sector. He also wants the U.S. to power its transportation on something other than oil. To this end, McCain plans to issue a Clean Car Challenge to U.S. automakers which will give U.S. consumers a $5,000 tax break if they buy a zero-carbon-emission car. This should encourage companies to develop and market such vehicles. He will also propose a prize for battery improvement, giving $300 million to the person or firm that develops a battery package with the size, capacity, cost, and power to leapfrog current plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. He also believes alcohol-based fuels could be an alternative but he also wants to end all subsidies, mandates, tariffs, and price supports that focus on corn-based ethanol.

For electric power, McCain plans to commit $2 billion annually to developing clean-coal technologies. His administration would also help get 45 nuclear power plants built and online by 2030, with the follow-on goal of 100 nuclear plants. He also favors even-handed tax breaks for alternative or renewable energy sources (wind, hydro, solar) that would be eliminated once the new industry no longer merits taxpayer dollars.

Obama: His goals are to create 5 million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean-energy future, save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined over the next 10 years, and ensure 10% of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25% by 2025.

Who, What, Where

Authored by Stephen J. Mraz
Senior Editor,
[email protected]

Senator John McCain’s official election site:

Senator Barack Obama’s official election site:

Congressman Ron Paul’s official election site:

Some of the steps he plans to take in reaching those goals include:

• Increase fuel-economy standards for vehicles by 4% annually while providing $4 billion for domestic automakers to retool manufacturing facilities in the U.S. to make these vehicles.
• Get 1 million plug-in hybrid cars getting 150 mpg on the road by 2015 and give consumers a $7,000 tax credit when they buy the new, advanced vehicles.
• Establish a National Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce the carbon in our fuels 10% by 2020. Obama would also require 60 billion gallons of advanced biofuels be phased into our fuel supply by 2030.
• Enact a windfall profits tax on excessive oil-company profits to give American families $1,000 to help pay rising bills. This relief would be a part of Obama’s longterm plan to provide middle-class families with at least $1,000/yr in permanent tax relief.
• Require oil companies to develop the 68 million acres of land (over 40 million of which are offshore) which they have already leased and are not drilling on. He would also help move along the construction on a gas pipeline in Alaska.
• Identify any infrastructure obstacles and shortages or possible federal permitting process delays that are holding up drilling in the Bakken shale formation (Montana and North Dakota), the Barnett shale formation (Texas), and the National Petroleum Reserve (Alaska). He’s also on record as opposing offshore drilling.
• Command the Energy Dept. to partner with private firms in developing five “first-of-a-kind” commercial scale coal-fired plants that use clean carbon capture and sequestration technology.
Paul: He believes reliance on the government to devise energy policy is a fallacy. He believes the free market should take care of it. The government shouldn’t be directing R&D because they are “bound and determined to always misdirect money to political cronies. The government ends up subsidizing things like the corn industry to develop ethanol and it turns out that it’s not economically feasible.” So, his answer to energy is to let the market work. Let supply and demand make the decision. Let prices make the decision. That is completely different than the bureaucratic and cronyism approach.

He wants to end all subsidies and R&D funding for the energy sector because it is not the government’s job to pick winners and losers and help one industry at the possible risk of possible harm to another. A cyclist himself, he has cosponsored bills that would offer tax breaks to Americans who commute by bicycle and use public transportation. Paul is also in favor drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, boosting the use of coal, and embracing nuclear power.

Climate change
Obama: Ensure 10% of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25% by 2025, reduce electricity demand by 15% from projected (sic) levels by 2020, and reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions 80% by 2050. One way he will do this is to subsidize homeowners to weatherize 1 million homes annually over the next decade. He would also put in place an economy-wide cap-andtrade program to reduce greenhousegas emissions 80% by 2050. This policy would require all pollution credits to be auctioned, and proceeds invested in clean energy and rebates and other transition relief for families.

Obama says he would reengage with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the main international forum dedicated to addressing the climate problem. He will also create a Global Energy Forum of the world’s largest emitters to focus exclusively on global energy and environmental issues.

Paul: Congressman Paul wouldn’t do anything about global warming because “we’re not going to be very good at regulating the weather.” “Governments don’t have a good reputation for doing a good job protecting the environment. If you look at the extreme of socialism or communism, they were very poor environmentalists. Private-property owners have a much better record of taking care of the environment. If you look at the common ownership of the lands in the West, they’re much more poorly treated than those that are privately owned. In a free-market system, nobody is permitted to pollute their neighbor’s private property — water, air, or land. It is very strict.”

Paul also opposes government regulation of greenhouse gases.

McCain: He proposes a cap-andtrade system that would set a limit on greenhouse gases but let companies and organizations buy and sell rights to emit such gases. He would exempt small firms. His timetable is to reduce emissions to 2005 levels, which are 18% above 1990 levels, by 2012. He would also apply higher efficiency standards to new building leased by the government and retrofit older buildings to save money and move the construction industry toward green technologies. He also wants to simplify the process of upgrading the national electric grid.

Space program
Paul: (From an address made in 1988) Time after time NASA has developed capabilities at great expense then discarded them: A space station larger than the Soviet MIR, a heavylift vehicle competitive with the new Soviet Energia, a nuclear engine twice as efficient as the space shuttle main engine, and a well-tested Earth-Moon transport.

The fate of the Saturn V heavy-lift launch vehicle is one of the saddest examples of this folly. Production was intentionally halted and portions of its tooling were “lost.” This bridge burning ensured support for the next aerospace- welfare program: The space shuttle. Now we have a grounded government shuttle that can lift a third as much as the Saturn V for the same cost per pound. That’s progress, government style.

Even worse, this failed state monopoly is now wrecking businesses to avoid well-deserved embarrassment. American companies desperately need to get their satellites into space. They have been blocked from using the cheapest, most reliable launcher in the world which unfortunately happens to be the Soviet Proton.

NASA has cost our nation a full 20 years in space development, 20 years that has seen the Soviet Union surpass us to an extent that may well be irreparable. It is inconceivable that a private firm could have committed such follies and survived. NASA deserves no better.

Our only hope now lies in the power of free individuals risking their own resources for their own dreams. We must recognize the governmentled space program is dead and the corpse must be buried as soon as possible. Any defense functions should be put under the military, and the rest of NASA should be sold to private operators. The receipts would be applied to the national debt. Then, all government roadblocks to commercial development of space must be removed.

This (applies) not just in space exploration, but in medical research, alternative energy research, and any number of the problems that continue to perplex mankind. Private enterprise depends on results and success and therefore private capital is always targeted much more wisely than are monies confiscated by governments.”

McCain: McCain wants the space program to be a top priority. So as President, he says he will; • C ommit to funding NASA’s Constellation program (setting up a manned lunar base) and ensure it has the resources it needs.

• Review and explore all options to ensure U.S. access to space by minimizing the gap between termination of the Space Shuttle and availability of a replacement vehicle.
• Complete the space station, then try to maximize its research and commercialization possibilities.
• Maintain infrastructure investments in Earth-monitoring satellites and support systems.
• Prevent wasteful earmarks from diverting precious resources from critical scientific research.
• Ensure adequate investments in aeronautics research.

Obama: He supports the development of the Constellation program and the space station, as well as “a bold array of robotic missions that will expand our knowledge of the solar system and lay the foundations for further manned exploration.” He also wants to make sure NASA has the funding to play a part in the fight against global climate change. He also wants to keep weapons out of space and use satellites to monitor nuclear programs worldwide to prevent nuclear proliferation.

It’s interesting to note that a while back, Obama said that he would chop a third of NASA’s budget, including delaying the Constellation program, and move it into education. But with the advent of NASA’s 50th anniversary, his office launched a pro-space statement.

In it, he says he will reestablish the National Aeronautics and Space Council to oversee and coordinate civilian, military, commercial, and national security space activities. “It will solicit public participation, engage the international community, and work toward a 21st century vision of space that constantly pushes the envelope on new technologies as it pursues a balanced national portfolio that expands our reach into the heavens and improves life here on Earth.”

Obama supports Congressional efforts to add and fund at least one additional Space Shuttle flight to fly a valuable mission and to keep the workforce engaged. At the same time he will stimulate efforts within the private sector to develop and demonstrate spaceflight.

Skilled workers: shortage or not?
McCain: McCain wants temporary worker plans that reflect U.S. labor needs in high tech while protecting opportunities for U.S. engineers, inventors, and technicians. He also wants to give those trained and educated in the U.S. a chance to stay and work here after graduation. H-1B visa would rise and fall in response to market conditions. He would extend H-1B visas to let visa holders renew their H-1b status while waiting for green cards.

Obama: “Although highly skilled immigrants have contributed in beneficial ways to our domestic-technology industry, there are plenty of Americans who could be filling those positions given the proper training. We can and should produce more Americans with bachelor’s degrees that lead to jobs in technology. A report of the National Science Foundation reveals that blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans as a whole comprise more that 25% of the population but earn, as a whole, 16% of the bachelor degrees, 11% of the master’s degrees, and 5% of the doctorate degrees in science and engineering. We can do better than that and go a long way toward meeting industry’s need for skilled workers with Americans. That being said, we do not want to shut our doors to innovators from overseas, who have traditionally helped make America strong.” Obama supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes improvement in our visa programs, including our permanent-resident visa programs and temporary programs including the H-1B program, to attract some of the world’s most talented people to America. “We should allow immigrants who earn their degrees in the U.S. to stay, work, and become Americans over time. And we should examine our ability to increase the number of permanent visas we issue to foreign skilled workers. Obama will work to ensure immigrant workers are less dependent on their employers for their right to stay in the country and would hold accountable employers who abuse the system and their workers.

He would support a temporary increase in the H-1B visa program as a stopgap measure until the U.S. reforms its immigration policies.

Paul: He is not too concerned about HB-1 visas, but he believes it needs monitoring. His major concerns are with illegal immigrants, He would get rid of all the benefits to illegals and reform legal entry procedures.

Obama: Over the last three decades, federal funding for the physical, mathematical, and engineering sciences has declined at a time when other countries are substantially increasing their own research budgets. So Obama believes federally funded scientific research should play an important role in advancing science and technology in the classroom and in the lab. And Obama would make sure the government does not distort the results of scientific research for ideological ends.

Obama will work to ensure the nation’s K-12 education system focuses on learning math and science, and support is provided for undergraduate and graduate training. He will diversify the makeup of the scientific community and provide federal research programs a much-needed infusion of funds.

Other polices that could affect technology include refining tax laws to better support investment such as making the R&D tax credit permanent, adjusting patent regulations “to more flexibly respond to quickening cycles of technological advance,” and write regulatory policies that protect the public and encourage risk taking by researchers.

Paul: “The government shouldn’t be directing research and development because they are bound and determined to always misdirect money to political cronies.”

McCain: He says: “At a time when our companies need to be more competitive, we need to provide a permanent incentive to innovate, and remove the uncertainty now hanging over businesses as they make R&D investment decisions.” So McCain will establish a permanent tax credit equal to 10% of wages spent on R&D to simplify the tax code, reward activity in the U.S., and make the U.S. more competitive with other countries. A permanent credit will provide an incentive to innovate and remove uncertainty. McCain dislikes earmarks and would work to end them so they didn’t divert resources from critical scientific research.

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