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Consumer Electronics Chief Ready to Battle

WASHINGTON -- One of the loudest voices in tech just plugged in the amplifier.

Gary Shapiro, the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), today unveiled what he called the "innovation movement," a broad-based lobbying effort that aims to press Congress for legislation that will spur innovation and promote the tech sector.

"Innovation is the backbone of our economy," Shapiro declared here at the National Press Club.

In a soft launch, CEA's innovation movement has attracted more than 14,000 members, a number Shapiro hopes will multiply after today's public roll-out.

CEA has a broad lobbying agenda, ranging from labor and trade issues to broadband deployment.

Shapiro said the group's first priority is to press Congress on the pending trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and Korea in an effort to reduce tariffs and taxes paid to those countries' governments.

He also came out swinging against "buy American" provisions, which, though intended to boost sales for U.S. manufacturers, can have the adverse effect of lowering exports if America's trade partners adopt similar policies.

The cornerstone of the innovation movement's trade agenda is promoting U.S. exports, which goes hand in glove with lowering the national deficit.

"Let's not sugar coat it -- our rising national deficit is an obstacle to our economic future," Shapiro said. "The federal deficit is a lead weight that will increasingly be a drag on the U.S. economy."

Trade may be the order of the day, but Shapiro is attempting to build a unified lobbying front on several policy issues preoccupying the tech industry.

One of those is a hotly debated and union-backed bill that would make it easier for workers to organize. The Employee Free Choice Act, derisively known as "card check" for a provision that critics say would deprive workers of the secret ballot when voting whether to join a union, has drawn sharp opposition from some corners of the tech industry, whose member companies are almost exclusively non-union.

The ultimate innovation killer

"Innovative companies need to be flexible and fast to act," Shapiro said. "You probably couldn't name one technology company that's unionized and innovative," he added, calling the bill the "ultimate innovation killer."

Shapiro also said the innovation movement would lobby on behalf of policies that would promote broadband deployment and protect open access and Net neutrality.

He also plans to continue the fight for loosening U.S. immigration laws to open the doors to more highly skilled foreign workers, another long-simmering priority of the tech industry writ large.

"Half of all Silicon Valley tech companies were started by first-generation immigrants," he said.

Shapiro has developed what he calls an innovation checklist, something CEA cooked up several months ago, as a quick litmus test for the merits of a bill.

By CEA's measure, a bill would meet the innovation movement's criteria if it: creates jobs; spurs new technology; attracts foreign talent; rewards innovation and investment; promotes exports; and fosters productivity and energy efficiency.

"We'll measure the success of this movement by using our innovation checklist on policies that become law," Shapiro said.