GOP Blames Dems for Slow Tech Agenda
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WASHINGTON -- Four months into the 109th Congress, the House Republican leadership turned its attention to technology today, with a flair for partisanship.
In outlining its tech agenda for 2004-2005, the House Republicans briefly returned to familiar issues. Unfortunately, their Senate majority brethren have rejected most of the ideas over the last five years.
Last year, for instance, the House moved aggressively on anti-spyware legislation, passing not one, but two bills. The Senate yawned. House lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to permanently exempt Internet connections from taxes. The Senate neutered the measure.
The House also pushed through a measure to eliminate stock option expensing for all employees except for the high-ranking executives of a corporation. The Senate said no thanks.
When it was all said and done, the 108th Congress passed an anti-spam bill that is widely considered a failure so far and granted grandfather clauses to allow more than a dozen states to continue to tax Internet access.
Not surprisingly, the House Republicans Wednesday blamed the minority Democrats for all this, even unleashing embattled Tom DeLay of Texas.
"They [Democrats] pay lip service to high tech issues, but they still have no agenda for the future of our information economy," Delay told a large crowd of Republican staff and tech industry executives.
DeLay added, "They're not even sure what they believe, except maybe some vague notion they invented the Internet. We're laying out our agenda our right now for everyone to see."
Spyware, Internet taxes and stock option expensing are all back on this year's House tech agenda, along with free trade, the digital television transition and telecom reform.
The Republicans are strongly backing the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) recently negotiated by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Majority Whip Roy Blount (R-Mo.) called CAFTA a "huge opportunity" for tech.
"So many of the trade issues really relates to our ability to be there first with technology and also be there first with whatever level of technology comes next," Blount said. "The high tech sector will benefit, I believe, as much as any sector."
Democrats in both the House and the Senate are far less enthusiastic over CAFTA, focusing on the human rights and environmental impact of the treaty.
Blount said getting CAFTA through the House would be a challenge. As if on cue, California Republican David Drier blamed the Democrats.
"To me, it is incomprehensible that those people who call themselves 'New Democrats' would come out in opposition to this measure," he said.
Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where most tech-related bills originate, predicted an aggressive agenda for his panel, beginning with a date certain proposal for broadcasters to switch to digital broadcasting. The move would open up the broadcasters' former spectrum for wireless broadband.
Under current law, broadcasters are required to vacate their analog spectrum by Dec. 31, 2006, or when 85 percent of the homes in their market are capable of receiving DTV signals from all broadcasters in that market. Barton wants to eliminate the 85 percent equation.
Barton said he was equally committed to telecom reform, predicting hearing later this month and a bill on the House floor by this summer.
"The United States is not even in the top ten of broadband deployment. Until we rewrite our laws, we're not going to be in the top ten," he said.
House Democrats did not issue a formal statement in reply to DeLay's tongue lashing as of press time.