The Hill

House Democrats introduce bill to invest $900 billion in STEM research and education

By Maggie Miller

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and several other House Democrats introduced legislation on Tuesday to invest in and train a technologically proficient workforce for the future.

The 21st Century Jobs Act would invest $900 billion over ten years in research and development efforts around emerging technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity and biotechnology, along with prioritizing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

It would establish a Federal Institute of Technology (FIT) that would be spread out across the nation at 30 different locations including existing educational facilities, along with promoting STEM education in public schools. 

Specifically, the bill would help fund computer science courses for K-12 students, carve out scholarships for those pursuing degrees in the STEM fields, allocate $8 billion to train teachers in STEM fields, and create tax incentives for companies to hire individuals who attended a FIT institution or received a STEM scholarship in order to diversify the talent field. 

According to a summary of the bill, it would ultimately create around 3 million new jobs per year, and significantly raise public investment in research and development, helping the U.S. keep pace with other nations on the international stage. 

The bill is also sponsored by Democratic Reps. Nanette Barragán (Calif.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Dwight Evans (Penn.), Jim Himes (Conn.), Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Darren Soto (Fla.), as well as House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).

Several former Democratic tech-related officials endorsed the bill on Tuesday, including former Vice President Joe Biden’s former chief economist Jared Bernstein, who said in a statement that “we’ve got tremendous international catch-up to do in this space, and this proposal is the first I’ve seen that’s scaled to the magnitude of the challenge.”

“Ro Khanna’s 21st Century Jobs Package is advancing an important, ambitious agenda that would both increase economic growth and also help more people benefit from that growth,” Jason Furman, a professor of the Practice of Economic Policy at Harvard University and the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration, said in a separate statement.

“Khanna’s proposal would unleash the largest race to the top in American history as areas around the country compete not to provide tax benefits for private companies but instead to improve education, infrastructure, housing, and the climate for local innovation and development,” Furman added. 

Investment in developing technologies and in STEM education and workforce has been a rare topic of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) introduced legislation in September to provide $50 million to help small and medium-sized businesses hire and train professionals in the STEM field, particularly those who are female, Black or Latino or from rural areas.

A bipartisan group of senators led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a separate bill in May that would funnel $100 billion over five years into U.S. science and technology research. 

The Trump administration has also zeroed in on promoting investment in emerging science and technology fields. 

The U.S. and the United Kingdom signed a formal agreement last month to promote cooperation on AI development, while the administration announced in August it would funnel over $1 billion over the next five years into funding new research institutes focused on AI and quantum computing development.