Terrorist Attacks Push Tech Agenda to Back Burner

The recent terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon have pushed high tech's legislative agenda—along with just about everything else—to the back burner, at least for now. Disaster-recovery efforts, military operations, and economic assistance have top priority in Washington these days, leaving legislation that technology interests had expected to make its way through the Congress this year languishing.

Legislation that would relax computer export controls, extend a moratorium on Internet taxes and bolster the country's education system were under consideration.

Relaxation of computer export controls will likely suffer the most serious setbacks. Some lawmakers had argued that the bill would make it easier for terrorists to threaten US national security. The attacks have given their argument considerable weight. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-TN, lashed out against the bill in a Senate floor speech the day after the attacks. He warned that the United States would become more vulnerable if it placed "our desire for profit" above national security.

Although the Senate has approved the measure, recent events suggest that its prospects are dim in the House.

Also, the clock is running out on Congress's ban on e-commerce taxes. A moratorium on Internet commerce taxes expires Oct. 21, along with a ban on Internet access taxes, unless Congress extends them.

Technology industries have also been lobbying heavily for Congress to pass two broad measures now in limbo. One is aimed at improving the country's education system, and the other would give the president greater authority to negotiate trade agreements with foreign countries. Although both the House and Senate have passed versions of an education bill, but there are differences yet to be worked out. Congress may not want to take on contentious issues during a period that demands bipartisan cooperation.

Trade legislation could fare better because Congress might now be reluctant to deny President Bush the special negotiating authority that has been granted to five previous presidents. The slumping economy could bolster the bill's chances, because export-reliant tech companies insist that the trade authority could help spur the economy out of its tailspin. The administration agrees.

But there is some good news: Concerns about the flagging economy have prompted House Republican leaders to considering including language in an economic stimulus package that would allow companies to accelerate depreciation of computer hardware and software, a big priority for high-tech companies.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].