Lame Ducks Limp Back to Congress

While speculation builds over what a Democrat-led U.S. House and, possibly, a U.S. Senate under Democratic control will do when the 110th Congress convenes in January, the 109th Congress, still firmly in Republican control, resumes today.

Given the power shift voted in Tuesday, the lame duck Congress is likely to meet long enough only to approve a number of funding bills to keep the government running.

Technology issues are likely dead for the year — particularly telecom reform — according to tech associations and industry groups contacted by

“No one expects anyone to do much [on tech bills],” said Roger Cochetti, group director of U.S. public policy for the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

As for telecom reform, once the centerpiece of Republican’s tech agenda, Cochetti predicted passage would “clearly be an uphill battle.”

In June, the House approved the Communications Opportunity, Promotion, and Enhancement Act (COPE) calling for national video franchising for Internet Protocol television (IPTV) providers in hopes of spurring competition in the pay television market.

Republicans voted down a Democratic proposal to add a network neutrality provision that would prohibit broadband carriers from charging extra fees based on bandwidth consumption to content providers.

The Senate Commerce Committee built on the House’s legislation with a more comprehensive bill that also includes Universal Service Reform and warning label laws for sexually explicit Internet sites. The bill has yet to reach a floor vote.

As in the House, Republicans defeated network neutrality amendments to the bill.

With Democrats lined up to block the bill if it doesn’t include network neutrality protections, the legislation is on lame duck life support.

According to Tom Galvin, a partner with the Washington technology consulting firm 463 Communications, not even the telephone companies will be pushing for passage, particularly with the telcos knocking off state deals for video franchising.

“The downside [network neutrality provisions] far outweighs the upside [national video franchising],” he said. “The telephone companies are not going to get a better deal with the Democrats in Congress.”

Galvin and others did hold out some hope for passage of greater funding for engineering, science and technology programs and an extension of the research and development (R&D) tax credit.

The R&D tax credit was originally enacted in 1981 and has been renewed 11 times since. On Dec. 31 of last year, the credit expired again.

Both the House and the Senate have included a new, expanded credit in their 2007 budget bills but efforts to reconcile differences in the two bills have stalled. In both bills, lawmakers only extend the R&D tax credit for one year.

The proposal calls for allowing companies to receive a tax credit of up to 10 percent of R&D spending.

“The problem we have in America is that the research and development tax credit expires on an annual basis,” President Bush said in April.

Bush also called on Congress to “double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in physical sciences over the next 10 years.”

The 109th Congress, though, has failed to follow through on the president’s request.

“During the lame duck, we expect Congress to pass all outstanding spending bills [and] to seamlessly extend and strengthen the research and development tax credit,” Phil Bond, president and CEO of the Information Technology Association of America, said in an e-mail response to

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