House Republicans introduce innovation act

House Republicans have introduced legislation aimed at increasing innovation in industry and the health care system, but opponents say the plan fails to address major impediments to the nation's competitiveness.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Republican High-Tech Working Group, introduced the Innovation & Competitiveness Act March 1, saying the legislation is intended to bolster the United States’ economic competitiveness in the global marketplace.

The act creates incentives for individuals and businesses to develop new products and services "so that America will remain the world leader in innovation,” Goodlatte said. “This legislation also recognizes that government sometimes is the problem -- not the answer to the problem -- so it also addresses government-imposed hurdles to innovation.”

Goodlatte introduced the legislation at a briefing, with Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), co-chairman of the House Republican High-Tech Working Group, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and other House leaders.

Smith said, “To compete today, we need to encourage innovation, foster creativity and promote a talented workforce. To do these things, we must remove burdensome regulation and litigation. We must make research and education a priority. And finally, we must lower taxes and protect intellectual property rights.”

The legislation would primarily support research and development efforts in industry. Measures include legal system reforms to shield small businesses from frivolous lawsuits, and expanding the Research and Development Tax Credit to ensure companies have enough money with which to experiment. In addition, tax provisions would limit certain state taxes that interfere with online commerce, which the bill's authors say they believe is essential for U.S. companies to compete with one another.

Incentives for using health information technology, such as interoperable health IT networks, are expected to improve the efficiency of the health care system, reducing the financial burden for businesses.

The legislation also attempts to increase the United States’ talent pool with loan forgiveness for math and science teachers and funding for new science master’s degree programs.

Boehlert said the legislation complements the President Bush’s new innovation agenda.

In his most recent State of the Union address, Bush announced an initiative to stimulate research and development in major scientific areas, including nanotechnology, supercomputing and alternative energy sources. The three-part program, called the American Competitiveness Initiative, focuses on R&D, education, and workforce and immigration policies. Its chief goal is to double the federal commitment to critical basic research programs in the physical sciences in the next 10 years.

Boehlert’s committee is responsible for implementing Bush’s agenda through additional legislation. Those bills, expected to be introduced by the end of May, would invest in the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The committee will hold a hearing next week on the proposal to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, a new research entity in the Department of Energy, known as ARPA-E.

“While we are still doing our homework and examining our options, legislation could include authorizing the 10-year investment plan proposed by the president, setting aside funds for transformational research and young researchers, and directing some research funds to topics of national priority, including energy research,” Boehlert said.

Provisions would also promote science and math education in government agencies, grades K-12 and undergraduate institutions.

House Democrats, however, said Goodlatte’s legislation and the president's agenda fall short in key areas.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, said the plan includes no proposals for universal broadband access, or new ideas to address the country's dependence on oil. There are no steps to ensure long-term improvements for the patent system, or changes to immigration laws to ensure that the brightest scientists and technologists in other nations are able to contribute to U.S. innovation, she added.

She said Republicans and Democrats can formulate a better package through cooperation.

House Democrats stand ready to work collaboratively with Republicans in Congress and the White House to create a more comprehensive agenda for innovation and competitiveness, Pelosi said in a statement released in response to Goodlatte's legislation.

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