March 1, 2006 1:12 PM PST
Republicans tout high-tech agenda
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"Competitiveness" was the buzzword at a press conference in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, where House Speaker Dennis Hastert and 10 House leaders from the Republican High-Tech Working Group talked up a wide-ranging agenda tied closely to goals outlined by President Bush in his State of the Union speech last month.
"In short, America needs an education system that produces the finest students in the world, who enter an economy that is not hampered by regulatory red tape, frivolous lawsuits and an anticompetitive tax structure," Hastert said.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas said they planned to introduce later on Wednesday a broad legislative package called the Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which includes several components that enjoy support from tech players.
A copy of that bill was not readily available. A summary sheet suggested the measure would aim at promoting research and development, increasing investment in math and science education, and eliminating "cumbersome regulations" and "stifling taxation" for technology companies. It would also include a section aimed at cutting back on so-called frivolous lawsuits of all sorts and proposals designed to create incentives for digitizing the health care system.
Leaders at the press conference repeatedly thanked the technology industry for its massive contributions to the economy--45 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, by one congressman's estimate--and painted the new legislative steps as a top priority.
The Republicans' take on policy overlaps in some ways with the "innovation agenda" announced by House Democrats, but, as usual, an ideological split remains. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that her party was committed to working with Republicans but belittled their proposal, saying Democrats "are committed to doing much more."
"It proposes nothing to bridge the digital divide through access to broadband," Pelosi said in a statement distributed to reporters at the Republicans' press conference. "It fails to propose any new ideas to achieve American energy independence." The Democrats' agenda, among other things, calls for incentives intended to bring broadband to all Americans and for increased investment in alternative energy sources.
At the time the Democrats' agenda was released, Hastert issued a statement accusing Democrats of voting against legislation considered important to tech interests.
Tech industry representatives have commended the efforts from both sides and indicated they don't care which party takes the lead, as long as someone is listening and poised to set industry priorities into law.
"Our message to the president and Congress is simple--let's work together to get a program done this year," said Ralph Hellman, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Dell, eBay, IBM, Intel and Microsoft.
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