RealTime IT News

Getting Along Over Tech?

WASHINGTON -- The Democrats held a press conference the other day that sent the Republicans into paroxysms of smear, half-truths and distortion. The Democrats, it seems, have an opinion on the direction of technology policy in this country.

It's not much of an original opinion, mind you, as it mostly covering old ground: more support for math, science and engineering education; more broadband more quickly for everyone; stock option expensing and more R&D funding.

Some might even say the Democrats were offering an olive branch, by and large endorsing the general direction of the Republicans' faltering tech agenda, only quibbling over the amount and timing of the funding.

But not the GOP. Apparently even a whiff of criticism is too much for the Republicans.

Even before House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held her Wednesday-morning presser, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert accused the Democrats of being against the broadband rollout, free trade and, generally speaking, the best interests of corporate tech.

When it comes to tech, about the only thing Hastert didn't accuse Democrats of being against was God and momma, and that, no doubt, is currently under GOP review.

"House Democrats have consistently supported an agenda of higher taxation, litigation and regulation," Hastert said in a statement issued by his office.

In the Senate, Nevada's John Ensign, chairman of the Republican High Tech Task Force, called the Democratic voting record on "all of the major priorities" for the high-tech sector "dismal."

As they say in the Congress: Mr. Speaker, point of order. Sen. Ensign, your time has expired.

Republicans correctly point out the majority of Democrats opposed the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), widely championed by technology executives seeking worldwide markets and global wages.

Democrats opposed the agreement on a number of grounds, not the least that it will lead to more outsourcing of U.S. IT jobs.

The Republicans' take: Democrats are opposed to making a "pledge to high-tech competitiveness."

The GOP pillories the Democrats for opposing the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, another piece of plum big business legislation favored by the pooh-bahs of the Silicon Valley. The statement is true enough, but just barely.

In the Senate, almost 40 percent of the Democrats voting that day sided with the Republicans. A voice vote in the House on the bill left little conclusive evidence of who was for what in that august chamber.

The Republicans' take: Democrats sleep with "greedy trial attorneys."

After those issues, the real mudslinging began.

You'll be interested to know, for instance, Democrats are opposed to legislation to "free up airwaves for cutting-edge wireless broadband and other new services by completing the digital television (DTV) transition."

Translation: the DTV bill is stuck like a piece of gum on the Budget Reconciliation Act, which has nothing to do with tech and everything to do with proposed funding cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and school lunch programs. And, oh yeah, opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.

Enough Republicans have found enough to dislike in this bill that Hastert hasn't been able to muster a majority vote. Like the Democrats, they like the DTV gum but can't stomach the legislation package it's stuck to. Does this make the dissenting Republicans anti-tech also?

Hastert's broadside also includes this prime cut: Democrats are against "expanding broadband access" since they favor using a reformed Universal Service Fund to fuel broadband build-outs in rural and underserved areas. The USF, you see, is a "waste-ridden subsidy program" symbolic of tax-and-spend Democrats.

Mr. Speaker, a lot of your own ilk are already onboard the reform USF movement. As recently as Thursday, Nebraska Republican Lee Terry was seen arm-in-arm with Democrat Rick Boucher promoting just such a plan. Sen. Gordon Smith (R.-Ore.) is talking up $500 million a year out of the USF for broadband expansion.

The choicest piece of screwball spin, however, involves Internet taxation.

Democrats, Hastert says, refuse to take the ban-on-Internet-taxes pledge, a GOP mantra even though it was Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee who tied up the Senate for months opposing a permanent ban on Internet connection taxes.

He won.

The Republicans, it seems, think tech policy is their sole province: no Democrats allowed; no new ideas permitted unless they involve cutting taxes or regulations. With the exception of honest differences on free trade, Democrats differ little from Republicans in their tech-policy approach.

For a majority party that has little more than the CAN-SPAM Act to show for its tech policy efforts, the Republicans might be wise to quit sliming the opposition and actually focus on the task at hand.

Who knows what a little bi-partisanship might actually accomplish?