America has what it takes -- ingenuity and determination -- but these qualities cannot flourish without a solid foundation.


Last weekend I went to my daughter's high school science fair, loading up the family car with her ninth-grade experiment measuring the amount of bacteria in prewashed vs. washed lettuce.

I left the science fair in awe of the intensity of the high school students and of their ability to truly "think outside of the box." They have the curiosity to learn and the determination to compete.

When I think of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the opening ceremony's perfectly synchronized 2,000-man drumming routine, I know we cannot wait to unleash the American spirit of innovation and determination.

While China builds high-speed rail, we debate. While other nations encourage invention and entrepreneurship, we squabble. While countries across the globe increase their numbers of engineers and scientists, we struggle.

What do I want to hear in the State of the Union address?

We need an economic call to action leading our country away from the consuming, importing, debt-ridden habits we've developed and toward becoming again a country that invents and makes things, exports to the world and keeps its financial house in order. Here are some of the foundational bricks we need to rebuild:

•Reward actual job creation instead of giving tax breaks to high-flying financiers who simply churn money.

•Reform education so our young people can really acquire the knowledge, skills and creativity to match the hypercompetitiveness of today's economy.

•Unleash the full potential of our small businesses as engines of job creation, ensuring access to affordable credit and to new markets, like the 95 percent of the world's customers who live outside the United States.

•Recognize the regional nature of economic innovation. Without the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, and state and federal partnerships, Minnesota would never have developed as a center for the medical device industry. There are many more opportunities to build on innovative "clusters" of people, institutions and businesses with similar interests.

•Finally, we must get serious about our deficit. This president inherited a fiscal mess, but our answer to our fiscal woes cannot be to throw up our hands and say "the other guys did this." We must reduce the deficit.

There was once a time when our nation was "piled high with difficulty" and President Lincoln summoned the American people to rise above the occasion to "think anew and act anew."

Today, our nation is again "piled high with difficulty," and both Democrats and Republicans must "think anew and act anew." How can we explain leaving in place a regulatory system that contains the same Wall Street loopholes that got us into this mess in the first place? How can we allow health care costs to continue to escalate when they hamstring our ability to compete? How are we going to add jobs if we allow the biofuel research to take place in Brazil instead of St. Paul? The wind turbine manufacturing in India instead of Iowa? The nuclear advancements in France instead of America?

Americans can't expect all answers and solutions to come from Washington. In fact, every day in every home across America, families are making decisions about the destiny of our country. Do we allow our kids to sit in front of the TV or do we remind them to study their math?

The president can't play parent to every family in America. Government policy alone can't guarantee an innovative and inventive citizenry. But the president can chart a course, and government policy can give a helpful push.

Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.