Industry lobbies for competitiveness bills

Time is running out for Congress to pass items on the president’s innovation agenda

As Election Day nears, the titans of technology are reminding the House that inaction on competitiveness bills could sway voter support.

The chief executive officers of Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Unisys, NCR, Intel, IBM, Dell, Applied Materials and EMC have — as a group — sent a letter to House leaders urging them to take legislative action on crucial components of the American Competitiveness Initiative before Congress adjourns Oct. 6.

“As leaders of some of the most aggressive and competitive global innovators in the world, we have seen firsthand the challenges and opportunities from the flat world,” the industry chiefs wrote in a letter to House speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and House minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “America possesses all of the strengths we will need to thrive in the 21st century if we leverage our strengths. By contrast, if we act out of fear or inertia — if we fail to press our advantages and close our minds or our markets — we will fall behind.”

The CEOs basically told congressional leaders to stop talking.

“We are grateful for the broad bipartisan, bicameral commitment to address the issue of U.S. competitiveness voiced by so many leaders to date, but we believe the time for words has passed,” they wrote. “It is time to act.”

The letter also cites pollster John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, who found that 78 percent of likely voters are more inclined to support candidates in the 2006 and 2008 elections who support a pro-competitiveness agenda that includes more funding for education and innovation.

In response to the letter, employees in Hastert’s office noted that the House has acted on various competitiveness provisions, that includes voting to extend the research and development tax credit.

“The competitiveness agenda is a top priority for the House and for the country,” Hastert said, adding that several of the measures have already passed the House and await Senate consideration.

But Pelosi aides are less optimistic that the competitiveness measures will be addressed before 2007.

“Unfortunately, it’s not likely that Congress will act this year,” said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. “We are running out of time, and despite repeated calls by Democrats for action on this issue, the Republican leadership and President Bush have simply not made it a priority.”

Pelosi wrote to the president Feb. 9 asking for a bipartisan meeting to discuss ways to advance the House Democrats’ Innovation Agenda and Bush’s competitiveness initiative, Daly said. Pelosi received no response.

Pelosi wrote to Hastert June 1 urging him to bring a comprehensive, bipartisan competitiveness and innovation agenda to the floor. Again, Pelosi did not receive a reply, Daly said.

Joe Tasker, senior vice president for government affairs and general counsel at the IT Association of America, said it is difficult to comment on specific provisions in the bills because there aren’t any.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot of things moving of late that are bills that we have to focus on,” he said.

Industry execs present legislative to-do listIn a letter to House leaders, a group of industry executives requested speedy action on these elements of the American Competitiveness Initiative:

  • Extending and strengthening the research and development tax credit.
  • Fully funding the National Science Foundation at the president’s $6 billion request.
  • Fully funding the Energy Department’s Office of Science at $4.1 billion.
  • Enacting pending legislation that targets education, research and barriers to innovation.
  • Adopting a market-based cap for H-1B visas, creating exemptions for employment-based visas in innovation fields and easing visa requirements for foreign students pursuing advanced degrees at U.S. universities.
  • Increasing nonearmarked funds for the National Institute of Standards and Technology by $107 million, bringing total funding to $540 million.
  • — Aliya Sternstein

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