Senate Republicans set high-tech policy goals


U.S. Senate Republicans want to pass patent reform, a permanent Internet tax moratorium and a permanent research and development tax credit in the next two years, members of the Senate Republican High Tech Task Force (HTTF) said Wednesday.

Congress also must encourage math and science education, pass a spyware penalties law and delay a proposal that would require U.S. companies to expense stock options, said 11 Republican senators from the task force, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who attended a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Republicans enjoy majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and HTTF members said they will work hard to push their 40-item agenda through Congress. The group hailed the IT industry as a major driver of the U.S. economy, with Frist saying two out of three U.S. jobs in the future will be related to technology.

"This is a very important task force, because the future of our country depends on what we're doing," added Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Senators pressed for a permanent ban on Internet-specific taxes, including access taxes. Congress first banned Internet-only taxes in 1998 and has extended the moratorium since then. In November 2004, Congress extended the moratorium again for three years after a group of senators raised objections about the tax ban's potential effect on the ability of states and local government to collect telecommunications taxes.

The Republican senators also called for a permanent R&D tax credit for private companies. The tax credit has been extended multiple times since 1981, but supporters of a permanent ban said U.S. companies want more assurance about the credit.

Many of the HTTF's policy goals echo issues pushed by technology companies and trade groups. On Tuesday, TechNet, an advocacy group made up of technology chief executives, laid out its own policy goals . They include a better U.S. education system, a faster broadband rollout and more federal spending on R&D.

The Republican high-tech agenda also includes reform for educational programs that support math and science and an end to regulations that "stifle innovation" such as broadband. Hatch called for the end of the diversion of patent application fees from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's budget back to the general budget.

The Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council, a lobbying group, praised the Republican goals, calling them "an ambitious, but achievable agenda" in a press release. ITI members include eBay, Dell, HP, Microsoft and Intel.

The HTTF's agenda also includes several policy goals that go beyond tech issues, including cutting wasteful government programs, reforming medical liability laws and reforming lawsuit legislation beyond the Class Action Reform Bill already passed this year.

Some of the goals aren't new legislation, but the promise to avoid new laws. For example, the Republicans want to encourage private-sector technologies to protect intellectual property from copyright violations while keeping the government from selecting technology winners and losers. "What is the goal of Congress? To help facilitate innovation," said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).

New issues for the HTTF this year include telecom regulation reform -- a rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 -- and e-health initiatives. Among the HTTF's e-health goals are reducing health care costs by enabling the use of technology, and eliminating barriers to legitimate sharing of medical information across state lines while protecting patient privacy.

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