The possibility that U.S. manufacturers are lagging behind Chinese workers in clean energy innovation prompted one Democratic lawmaker this weekend to issue an historic call to action.

Rep. Steve Israel, co-chairman of the House's Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), tweeted on Sunday:

China now leads world in clean tech. Time for a Sputnik program to reclaim leadership.

Israel's line about Sputnik refers to the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, beginning in the late 1950s.

The USSR launched Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit Earth, in 1957, to the surprise of most Americans. That touched off a serious, informal competition between the two political powers spanning about two decades -- and peaking with NASA's successful landing on the Moon in the late 1960s.

Consequently, Israel hopes the United States will challenge China's dominance in the clean energy field through a similar, informal research campaign. 

Whether his fellow lawmakers share his fervor, however, is another issue entirely. While President Barack Obama has long touted clean energy reforms as a means of job creation, lawmakers have yet to send a substantial clean energy bill to his desk.