'New Democrats' Have E-Genda That Pumps Up and Protects High Tech

'New Democrats' Have E-Genda That Pumps Up and Protects High Tech

Rep. J.C. Watts Jr.

By Kerry Gildea, Contributing Writer

A group of 65 House centrists ? who call themselves The New Democrat Coalition ? has released the second annual edition of its "e-genda," a new economic policy that puts heavy emphasis on bridging the digital divide, increasing high-technology training and improving cybersecurity.

While the e-genda promotes issues such as Internet privacy, H-1B visas and promotion of trade opportunities ? initiatives that the information technology industry has supported all along ? it goes a step further in targeting specific legislative initiatives and bills that the group is committed to working on, members of the NDC said.

The NDC released the e-genda June 27, led by Reps. Cal Dooley, D-Calif., Jim Moran, D-Va., Tim Roemer, D-Ind., and Adam Smith, D-Wash. Senate Democrats Blanche Lincoln of Arizona, Joseph Liebermann of Connecticut and Bob
Graham of Florida also were on hand for the occasion.

The NDC claims its e-genda is more comprehensive and specific than the Republican "eContract," released in May, and that it does more for those who cannot afford to join in the new economy.

Several areas of the policy initiative make the Democrats' proposal different from what Republicans have proposed in their eContract, said Adam Kovaceviche, an aide to NDC co-chairman Dooley. Foremost is the level of detail in the bill; it cites specific bills and projects still on the horizon, he said.

For example, the e-genda deals with a specialized project to support a Silicon Valley non-profit that strives to provide families with computers and other ways to bridge the digital divide, he said.

However, House Republicans warned their NDC colleagues that the only real way to support the new economy will be to get the full Democrat leadership behind high-tech and trade issues that went unsupported this year. While NDC members have voted with Republicans on trade and other high-tech issues, GOP members claim more bipartisanship is needed.

House Republicans, responding to the e-genda, also were quick to single out House Democrats who did not support granting permanent normal trade status for China and other items of concern to the IT community.

For example, Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., R-Okla., chairman of the House Republican Conference who introduced the GOP's eContract May 10, blasted House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and other Democrats for blocking progress on high-tech issues.

Watts urged the NDC to convince the Democratic leadership to "abandon that do-nothing strategy" and work with Republicans to promote the new economy.

"I hope New Democrats will work with Republicans to overcome election-year obstructionism and enact a number of important priorities found in both the eContract and e-genda," Watts said in a June 27 statement following the NDC e-genda release.

"This has already been a remarkable year for high-tech successes," Watts said. "It's only June, and the House has voted for trade with China, to protect e-commerce from discriminatory taxes, to establish uniform digital signatures, to lower barriers to the Internet by banning access charges and to allow every worker to reap the benefit of stock option plans."

Both political parties have fallen over themselves to take credit for passing legislation that bolsters the new economy. In their efforts to win over Silicon Valley executives, they also have blamed each other for blocking initiatives that industry officials say would benefit the IT economy.

And both Republicans and Democrats say they are leading movements to bridge the digital divide.

"One of those most pressing issues is the gap in access to technology," Watts said. "I see this as a digital opportunity to ensure that all Americans can enjoy the growth and unlimited potential of the Internet. I hear from community activists and leaders across the country on this issue. They're not calling for new 'Washington-knows-best' programs, but for market incentives to promote economic development and investment."

The NDC e-genda contains some initiatives widely supported by House Democrats and the Clinton administration. For example, it calls for support of the administration's Home Internet Access proposal that would provide $50 million in seed money for local non-profit organizations to provide computers and Internet access to low-income families.

In addition, the policy plan promotes the Digital Divide Elimination Act of 2000 (H.R. 4061), introduced by Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., and NDC co-founder Sen. John Breaux, D-La., to provide a one-time, 50 percent refundable tax credit for low-income individuals for the purchase of computer hardware and software.

The e-genda also supports legislation authored by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Dooley that increases funding for education technology in schools, targets funding to low-income schools and provides resources to help teachers integrate technology into the curriculum.

In the area of IT training, the e-genda includes a proposal from Moran to provide tax credits ranging from 20 percent to 25 percent of training expenses for individuals and up to $6,000 per employee to employers who provide information technology training. Additional credits would be available to employees who offer IT training programs in empowerment areas and rural areas.

Also added to the e-genda was a proposal introduced in March by Moran and Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ariz., that would establish a 17-member commission to examine the legal issues of whether U.S. citizens need additional safeguards to protect the online privacy of their medical, financial and other personal needs.

"The e-genda that the New Democrat Coalition is unveiling today represents a thoughtful, comprehensive and realistic approach to the problems and challenges that confront us in the new information age economy," Moran said. "I firmly believe that these proposals can form the basis for bipartisan agreement on an agenda that will keep our information technology industries thriving."

On trade, the NDC mirrors the issues supported by the GOP. The e-genda calls for a re-evaluation of the existing export control regime and reduction of the congressional review period of exports from 180 days to 30 days.

It also supports fast-track trade negotiating authority to give the president authority to negotiate all trade-related issues.

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