For nearly a year now, President Obama has pushed the line that the United States has to be prepared to “out-innovate, out-build, and out-compete” the rest of the world in the 21st century. Republicans have generally been hostile to such a proposition, largely because innovation and building requires investments they’re unwilling to make.

GOP officials are loath to admit it, but keeping the United States in a global leadership position in areas of technology and innovation simply isn’t a high priority. If Americans fall behind in global competition, for much of the right, it doesn’t much matter — so long as the wealthy aren’t paying more in taxes.

It’s what makes comments like these stand out as noteworthy.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chairs an energy and commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations, originally supported the [Department of Energy’s loan-guarantees program for clean energy] when Congress created it.

Now he says, “I think the administration is putting taxpayers’ money at risk in areas that are not creating jobs.” […]

“We can’t compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines,” Stearns says.

He says he doesn’t believe in any type of subsidy for industry. And, he says, where solar is concerned, it makes more sense to invest in research and development on a technology where the U.S. still has a chance of winning.

So on the one hand we see a White House committed to out-competing our international rivals, and on the other, we see leading congressional Republicans who believe the United States simply can’t keep up anymore, and is content to let China take the lead.

GOP officials, apparently, see this as a global competition, and are throwing in the towel.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said this week at the Solar Decathlon in D.C., “Some say this is a race America can’t win. They’re ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat…. I challenge the naysayers to come to this Solar Decathlon, visit these houses, feel the student energy, touch their creativity and tell them they can’t win. These people are not here to give up. They’re here to win the clean energy race.”

If only Republican lawmakers felt the same way.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.