RealTime IT News

Tech Feeling Democrats' Love

WASHINGTON - After a summer of disaffection, House Democrats are renewing their love affair with Silicon Valley, promoting an "innovation" agenda that reads like a Christmas wish list for tech.

Anxious to make up with the industry it angered earlier this year over free trade issues, House Democrats are proposing to double federal spending on a national broadband rollout.

They also want to double the funding for basic research and development and add 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers to America's workforce in the next four years.

During a National Press Club press event Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats believe in stock option expensing and scaling back some Sarbanes-Oxley provisions for small businesses.

"There will be those who say we can't afford to make these investments," Pelosi said. "Democrats believe we can't afford not to make them. We have no choice."

To come up with this plan, Pelosi said she and other Democratic leaders spent the last few months holding technology forums across Silicon Valley amd in Seattle, Boston, Chicago and North Carolina's Research Triangle.

"They warned that the commitment of the public sector has not kept pace with America's challenges in the global economy," Pelosi said. "Today, Democrats challenge Congress and the country to renew our commitment to the public-private partnerships that will secure America's continued leadership in innovation."

One small problem for Democrats: Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House.

Before Pelosi began her press conference, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois had this say about the Democrats' new found commitment to tech:

"House Democrats have consistently supported an agenda of higher taxation, litigation and regulation while Republicans have been fighting for a high tech agenda that expands innovation."

Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the Senate High Tech Task Force, was equally dismissive of the Democrats' new plan.

"We are already pursuing what the Democrats are proposing and are doing it despite Democrats' votes against many of our proposals that are top priorities for the high tech industry," he said.

"Pursuit of a meaningful high tech agenda should be accomplished through effective legislation, yet our work on all of the major priorities for the high tech sector over the past Congress has been met with objections from Democrats."

The objects of all this attention were, not surprisingly, delighted.

"[The Democratic agenda] thoughtfully addresses how government can best play a role in improving our economic competitiveness by focusing on innovation," John Chambers, president and CEO of Cisco, said in a statement. "I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to implement these laudable goals."

Venture capitalist John Doerr added, "This comprehensive innovation agenda will benefit every American, especially our kids. Let's set aside partisan differences to keep America number one."

As with the Republicans' tech plan, the Democrats begin with education and research. Between the two parties, it's only a matter of money: tax cuts or tax credits.

"We [the U.S.] will graduate 70,000 engineers this year," Pelosi said. "India will graduate 350,000 engineers while China will graduate 700,000. They are making a commitment to long-term research and development. "

She noted that India, China and other emerging technology challengers to the United States are "utilizing cutting edge technologies to propel themselves forward. South Korea is an incubator for new innovation and leads the world in broadband penetration."

Pelosi said the United States is not meeting the challenge.

"We are allowing that commitment to falter," she said. "Our federal support of basic research peaked in 1987 and has been flat or falling ever since. We now rank 16th in the world in broadband penetration."

Pelosi sidestepped comparisons and contrasts between the plans of the Democrats and the Republicans.

"This will happen, it's only a matter of time," she said. "Congress needs to do what what we all know needs to get done."

Josh Ackil, vice president of government relations for the Information Technology Industry Council, said: "The starting gun has been fired. America's high tech companies look forward to working with Congress to make certain the U.S. wins the global competitiveness race."

He might have also added, no matter whose plan it is.