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Bush shows support for tech industry

On a visit to Silicon Valley, president emphasizes need to keep U.S. on "bleeding edge" of technology.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--The United States is losing its competitive edge in science and technology, and President Bush told Silicon Valley leaders Friday that the country can't afford to let that happen.

Bush was at Cisco Systems headquarters to promote his plan to bolster America's competitive advantage in technology. This is the same plan that the president outlined three months ago in his State of the Union address. He started off a panel discussion that included California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Cisco CEO John Chambers, telling the audience that the U.S. cannot afford to fall behind emerging economic powers such as China and India.

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Video: President Bush visits Silicon Valley
President speaks about competition during visit.

"Our economy is good, real good," Bush said. "But the fundamental question is: Can it stay that way five years from now? Or 10 years?"

"The most important thing, in my judgment, to keep America competitive, is for the U.S. to remain at the bleeding edge of technology," Bush said, adding that it made sense for the federal government to fund research and development to "ensure the U.S. remains the innovation center of the world."

Bush spent the week promoting his American Competitiveness Initiative, which proposes spending $136 billion over 10 years. The bill has the support of many Silicon Valley leaders, including Chambers, who noted that China and India are producing 10 times as many Ph.D. graduates as the U.S. is. Chambers spoke about the need to allow technology companies to hire the brightest minds--even if these skilled workers come from overseas.

Technology companies have long lobbied the U.S. government to expand the number of H1-B visas, which enable skilled international workers to hold jobs in the U.S. Although the issue has created controversy, mostly from Americans who contend that the H1-B visa program allows foreigners to take jobs away from Americans, Bush sounded a sympathetic note during the panel discussion. After local entrepreneur Francois Henley spoke about coming to the U.S. from Canada to start his business, Bush said, "I love being the president of a country where people can come with nothing and start their own business."

Later the president said, "This has always been a country that allows people to dream big dreams." To keep America's talent pipeline full, the president has advocated improving all levels of education, especially in math and science.

Silicon Valley leaders can take pride in Bush's initiative, since they are the ones who helped frame it. The Bush administration sought input from many tech leaders before announcing the plan. The bill and the president's visit are a sign that the White House is paying attention to issues important to the tech industry. Despite a chilly welcome from antiwar protesters outside Cisco's campus, the president was positive about his visit to Northern California. He delighted the crowd, saying, "It's wonderful to be in entrepreneur heaven."