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Washington leaders meet with tech execs

Executives from companies belonging to the group TechNet met with congressional leaders and White House officials on Wednesday to talk innovation, immigration, and patents.

About 100 technology executives, including dozens of high-level officers and CEOs, met with White House officials and congressional leaders Wednesday to discuss ways the tech industry can help turn around the economy and the legislative agenda they say is needed to make that happen.

Cisco CEO John Chambers, Hewlett-Packard Executive Vice President Mike Holston, and Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson were some of the executives brought together in Washington by TechNet, a bipartisan political network of CEOs from the "innovation" economy. The organization unveiled its 2009 policy agenda, which includes some proposals already under way such as support for green technologies and increased broadband infrastructure, as well as more controversial issues like immigration reform and patent reform.

The tech executives first met with a bipartisan group of congressmen, followed by a meeting with members of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). They also met with a group of Senate Republicans, as well as House Republicans led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) There was also a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House Democrats.

At the White House, the executives met with officials including White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, National Economic Council Director Larry Summers, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner, and Tom Kalil, the associate policy director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act has enabled the Obama administration and Congress to address some issues relevant to the tech community, like health information technology and energy efficiency, but there needs to be "continued follow-through both from our side and their side," said Chris Hankin, senior director of federal government affairs for Sun Microsystems.

The executives also appealed to the politicians to resist protectionist policies spurred by concern over U.S. job growth. President Obama's budget proposal, for instance, would limit multinational corporations' ability to defer U.S. taxes on profits earned abroad until the profits are brought back to the United States. The administration estimates it can raise $210 billion over 10 years by collecting those taxes.

"There's concern that would put us at a competitive disadvantage," since other countries have the same tax deferral policy, said Betsy Mullins, TechNet's vice president of government and political affairs.

With over 70 percent of the industry's sales overseas, "what does that do to your sales, your ability to grow, and to create new jobs?" she asked.