What Obama’s Budget (And A Second Term) Would Do For U.S. Innovation

If Barack Obama is reelected, what would it mean for innovation, startups and science in America? His newly proposed budget–as well as past actions–offer clues.


Barack Hussein Obama–POTUS to you and me–is the man in control of what’s arguably the world’s only current superpower. At 50, he’s looking for a second go at the country’s top job. In order to get there Obama’s relying, in part, on his Net-savvy staffers to whip up a storm of interest on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even Instagram. Obama’s campaign proved successful last time around, running on a pro-tech ticket. Let’s look at what a second term would mean for innovation–and for us.

Rocket Boosts For Startups

Startups and entrepreneurship really do seem to be close to the President’s heart, and Facebook’s looming IPO,
at $100 billion of value, makes a loud and positive statement for the Silicon Valley


Immediately after
his State of the Union address, Obama sent out a proposal for the
Startup America Legislative Agenda–an outline plan that would fix small
business taxes, enable new ways for startups to seek funding, and
attempt to tackle the issues of science and tech immigration that the
H1-B visa arguments are all snarled up in. It’s safe to say Obama is
going to keep pushing for startups–although he’ll have to push tricky
tax rulings and visa proposals through Congress to do so, and that’s not
exactly a frictionless process.

Shooting For Something Other Than The Moon

Bipartisanship may not be very popular in Congress these days–but it is here! We’ve previously looked at what the administrations of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich would mean for innovation in America.

»Would President Romney Be Good For Tech, Science, And Space Innovation In The U.S.?

»Gravitational Pol: What President Gingrich And His Moon Base Would Mean For U.S. Innovation

Obama’s future as President is intimately tied up with the budget his administration proposes, as its outcomes will be played out over a second term. A lot of fuss has been centered on his plans for the future of space, with opponent Newt throwing harsh criticisms around, and a lot of confusion about the future of NASA in general, and the new budget is stirring up more noise–at about the same time the European space effort is doing pretty well.


So, news that the Prez is recommending a deeper cut for NASA’s finances, one that would reduce it to the lowest levels in four years, strikes a curious note. The cut is slight, down to $17.7 billion from a $17.8 billion figure Congress approved in November, but compared to last year’s five-year budget it’s a 5% slide. Ouch. What’ll it mean for NASA’s mighty rockets, moonman, marsmen, and exciting missions to the moons of far-flung planets? Nobody really knows, so we guess “confusion” is the first result. It does seem like one casualty will be ties for EU cooperation in the impressive ExoMars mission, and Mars missions overall look glum. So Obama’s future for space involves sending humans to…generic space, to do…stuff. And probably hitching a ride on some impressive (but definitely not interplanetary) commercial space endeavors.

Not exactly the right stuff to inspire generations of schoolkids!

Smarts In Science


Last week Obama threw a party at the White House for… schoolkids. It was the second annual White House science fair, and as well as mingling with the young crowd, Obama got in a few words about the future of science under his power: “It’s young people like you that make me so confident that America’s best days are still to come.” He mentioned things like winning the future, the best and smartest workers in the world, and future jobs and industries. Good stuff, Mr. President–it tallies with your original pre-election calls, and reminds us that you’re aware that science and engineering underpin man future industrial successes in our techno-centric world. Sure, plenty of the most successful tech entrepreneurs right now were school and university dropouts…but hey, any education is good (which is why he wants to invest millions more into it. Maybe Apple can help? After all, we know the Commander in Chief likes the iPad).

The State of the Union address was more positive for scientists currently working, because it was very pro-science with the President urging no cuts in basic science research, begging for foreign science students to come and earn citizenship, and suggesting tax cuts for high-tech manufacturing firms. It all sounds good, though the last bit is a bit of a pipe dream: Can you imagine how many tax cuts would be needed to make manufacturing as cheap in the U.S. as it is in China?

Investing In Innovation And Immigration?


A good chunk of the 2012 State of the Union speech centered on Obama’s ideas on innovation–he even mentioned he wanted to inspire entrepreneurship so the next Steve Jobs would be grown in America, and wanted to push the same kind of innovation that led to the computer chip. Then he moved on to one of the biggest goals for innovation, which was to create American-produced energy…not just oil (the stinky global-warming criminal) but American-made energy that is “cheaper, cleaner, and leads to new jobs.” A shame that in the words about clean energy that followed there was another emphasis on natural gas, a resource that does require innovative work to access, as it’s yet another greenhouse criminal. But still, way to go Obama, at least you’re no warming skeptic!

Late in 2011, Obama set out the future goals for his health care plan–including a $1 billion spending initiative for innovation in the health care world that would lead to better treatments, cures, and new drugs. And “innovation” is a word he keeps saying (even if it runs counter to some of his spending cut ideas)–so it’s something he’ll focus on in term two. But maybe his speech writers need to innovate to prevent the message from getting tired, eh?

[Image: Flickr user j-No]


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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)


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