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The largest increase in research and development came in 1964, and totaled $11 billion (in today’s dollars)
The American Jobs Plan proposes $180 billion for research, development and manufacturing.
No itemized list of spending has been released, but experts say the plan is likely to far exceed $11 billion in spending on research and development.
Most of the discussion around President Joe Biden’s proposed $2 trillion American Jobs Plan has been around infrastructure and spending on areas such as child care and long-term care for adults.
But the package also includes $180 billion for accelerating research and development.
The aim is that the spending will help keep the United States competitive within the world economy, according to a fact sheet on the American Jobs Plan released by the White House.
"Public investments in R&D lay the foundation for the future breakthroughs that over time yield new businesses, new jobs and more exports," the fact sheet says. "However, we need more investment if we want to maintain our economic edge in today’s global economy."
Vice President Kamala Harris touted the research and development component in a May 5, 2021, visit to a lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"The president has made it a priority of our administration to really seek out and lift up the great work that American universities and technologists and innovators are doing," Harris said. "We are prepared, in fact, to invest what will be the biggest nondefense investment in research and development in the history of our country."
Biden made a similar statement during his April 28, 2021 address to Congress, adding that "We will see more technological change in the next 10 years -- than we saw in the last 50 years."
Is Harris right?
Does the administration’s American Jobs Plan propose the largest nondefense investment in research and development?
When we contacted Harris’ office for backup, staffers pointed to data compiled by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
According to the group, government spending in the area steadily increased over the last 48 years, but never tallied more than $11 billion at a time. (Note: The study controlled for inflation, so the $11 billion is in today’s dollars) Indeed, some years saw decreases instead of gains.
Matthew Hourihan, director of the group’s R&D Budget and Policy Program, said Biden’s proposed investment is very likely to be the largest in history, but noted that final numbers on how the $180 billion would be divided have not been released.
He highlighted a line item in the plan, $50 billion for semiconductors, which includes funding for research and development, but also for manufacturing. The separate totals for each haven’t been released.
By the numbers, the largest increase -- equivalent to $11 billion today -- came in 1964, which was a direct response to the space race. Since then, the largest normal increase in R&D spending came in 2003, with a $6 billion increase in spending, Hourihan said.
The data is the most extensive available, but -- of course -- does not go back to the start of the nation.
Another complicating factor to the claim: The money proposed in Biden’s plan may be spent over multiple years, making it tricky to compare the full package against single-year totals from the past.
Meanwhile, it’s possible that the spending will move forward at a lower level, or in a separate bill entirely.
In one counter proposal from a group of Republicans, all funding for research and development would be removed and carried forward as separate legislation, according to a May 21, 2021 Vox report.
And, in a White House memo on a potential compromise for the American Jobs Plan, shared to Twitter on May 21, 2021 by CNN reporter Phil Mattingly, the administration offers taking research and development out of the plan in favor of separate legislation, calling the investments "critical to securing our economic competitiveness."
In any case, we evaluate claims based on information known at the time. And the key element here is whether the proposal stacks up as Harris claimed.
In a visit to Milwaukee, Harris claimed that the American Jobs Plan would be the largest investment in American research and development the country has ever seen.
While a detailed breakdown of all the spending in the plan has yet to be released, experts say the $180 billion earmarked for American research, development and manufacturing will likely contain far more money for research and development than ever before.
And while a compromise could put the money into a separate bill, that doesn’t negate the size or the claim Harris made about it.
We rate this claim Mostly True, which means the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
The White House, "FACT SHEET: The American Jobs Plan," March 31, 2021
Kamala Harris, Visit to University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, May 4, 2021
The White House, April 28, 2021 Address to Joint Session of Congress, April 28, 2021
American Association for the Advancement of Science, "Historical Trends in Federal R&D," May 18, 2021
Phone conversation with Matthew Hourihan, Director of R&D Budget and Policy Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, May 19, 2021
Vox, "Biden’s negotiations with Republicans are making some Democrats anxious," May 21, 2021
Twitter, Phill Mattingly, May 21, 2021
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