RealTime IT News

Tech Lacks Traction in Presidential Race

Pollsters, politicians and pundits have made it well known that the 2004 presidential race is tight for many reasons. But one thing is certain: Technology is not one of them.

Throughout the campaign, tech policy has been a non-issue, as Democrats and Republicans differ little on tech topics, such as broadband rollout, Voice over IP and Internet taxes.

"Technology [as an issue] has not resonated outside the Beltway," said Roger Cochetti, group director of public policy at CompTia, an IT trade group. "It has not had the stride of other headline issues."

The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), with its all-star roster of member companies including Microsoft, Cisco, Dell and Intel, and several other groups, tried to inject tech policy into the national debate last week with little success.

"I don't think this election has been about anything but the war and the economy," said Rhett Dawson, ITI president and CEO. "It's one of the most content-free elections in some time."

The Consumers Union (CU) issued a new report saying the United States was falling behind in worldwide broadband penetration rates as a result of President Bush's IT policy. Since broadband penetration rates can be interpreted in a number of ways, the story gained little traction.

The ITI followed two days later with its biennial congressional voting analysis, claiming Republicans are more supportive of technology than Democrats, based on a subjective group of votes. The ITI also pointed out Democratic nominee John Kerry missed 10 of the 12 votes targeted by ITI. Of course, Kerry missed virtually all votes on all issues in the Senate this year while out on the campaign trail.

Both Bush and Kerry endorse an aggressive rollout of broadband. Earlier this year, Bush called for universal and affordable broadband access for all Americans by 2007. Kerry has pushed for an equally aggressive broadband rollout but without a specific deadline. Bush thinks the preferred route is deregulation and tax cuts to companies bringing the technology to the market. Kerry supports tax credits instead of tax cuts, leaving nuance as their only real differences on broadband.

Ultimately, both the CU and ITI political plays underscored how little difference there is between Democrats and Republicans on technology policy. The ITI numbers show that with or without Kerry in their ranks, large numbers of Democrats teamed with the majority Republicans on tech issues.

The Senate passed the CAN-SPAM Act on a 97-0 vote. A provision in a tax vote saw a 93-0 support of extending the R&D tax credit. Another tax provision allowing U.S. multinationals to bring back overseas profits at a reduced tax rate passed on a 75-25 vote. An attempted amendment severely penalizing the multinationals for not investing the profits in new jobs was defeated, 68-31. The pattern of Democrats siding with Republicans on tech issues is also prevalent in the House of Representatives.

The only area where the ITI docked Democrats was on free trade issues. According to the ITI, a vote against the Chile and Singapore free trade agreements was an anti-tech vote. Some Democrats, including Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) voted against the free trade bills because of environmental concerns.

"It's such a global market and [ITI members] rely on trade," Dawson said. "We cannot survive on the domestic market alone."

The House and the Senate passed both free trade agreements by wide margins with many Democrats crossing the aisle to join Republicans.

Kerry and Edwards also voted against the joint House-Senate conference report, which included the corporate tax break for U.S. multinationals. Both said the bill rewards companies for outsourcing. Dozens of Democrats in the House and the Senate supported the legislation.

Given a chance to address the outsourcing issue in a questionnaire by CompTia, both Kerry and Bush ignored the issue.

The one tech issue in Congress that has proved controversial is whether to extend or make permanent the Internet access tax moratorium. A Republican intra-party squabble is holding up the legislation. Led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), some Republicans, mostly former governors, have objected to the bill because of the potential lost income to states.