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Bush, Gore wrestle for new-economy voters

Silicon Valley and other technology hotbeds will be watching closely as the U.S. presidential candidates flesh out their positions on technology issues.

    WASHINGTON--As the U.S. presidential candidates gear up for the final laps of their respective campaigns, Silicon Valley and other technology hotbeds will be watching closely as Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush flesh out their positions on technology issues.

    Both Gore and Bush would like voters to believe that each is the only presidential candidate capable of leading the United States in the so-called new economy. In fact, a close examination of their campaign platforms reveals a great deal of similarity in their positions on technology matters.

    There are some telling differences, however, in areas such as skilled immigrant visas and Internet taxes.

    George Bush When the year's allotment of visas for skilled foreign workers, known as H-1B visas, was used up in March, many employers such as Microsoft and Intel began an intensive lobbying campaign to raise the cap so more engineers and other skilled workers could come to the United States.

    "Engineers are the fuel and energy driving our economy," said Grant Seiffert, the Telecommunications Industry Association's vice president of government relations.

    Both Bush and Gore favor legislation that would raise this year's cap of 115,000 workers to 200,000 and would extend that increase for the next several years. The limit is scheduled to drop to 107,500 next year and to 65,000 in 2002. Some are predicting the cap could be met as early as January next year without an increase.

    The candidates, however, differ on this issue in one key respect. Bush sides with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Tex., in supporting a "clean" bill containing only the H-1B cap. Gore supports the Clinton administration's position announced in May that says any increase in skilled worker visas should accompany an extension of amnesty to Latinos who entered this country illegally as recently as 1986.

    Gore is "committed to ensuring fairness in immigration," campaign spokesman Dagoberto Vega said.

    Bush, however, charged in a recent statement that "the Clinton-Gore administration is standing in the way of continued economic growth...I urge the Clinton-Gore administration to put the public's interests ahead of union bosses and special interests who oppose legal immigration."

    Sources on Capitol Hill said it's unclear whether an H-1B bill will be able to pass this year. Many of the proponents of raising the cap have tried to separate it from the Latino amnesty bill, arguing that a clean bill will have a better chance of passage; but so far, those efforts have been unsuccessful.

    Just as the two candidates favor an H-1B visa increase, both Bush and Gore say they support the moratorium on discriminatory Internet taxes. But Bush favors congressional efforts to extend the moratorium and says he supports pushing it until at least 2004. Gore, while stating "there shouldn't be any discriminatory taxes on the Internet," hasn't come out in favor of an extension yet.

    "The vice president is committed to finding a solution" favorable both to Internet retailers and states, Vega said. He wants an approach that "won't strip states and local governments of the income they need" through sales taxes.

    The candidates have exchanged strong words on the issue of government restrictions on encryption exports, but it's unclear whether they are far apart on the issue. Bush began attacking Gore on the topic last year, saying the Clinton administration approach "needlessly penalizes U.S. businesses while failing to strengthen our national security."

    "Our best companies have felt frustrated that they cannot sell some of their products abroad--even when equivalent technology is sold by foreign competitors," Bush said in a speech in Phoenix earlier this year.

    Since that time, the administration has announced a series of policies that serve to loosen its control of technology exports. Bush feels that relaxation "came seven and a half years too late," said campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew. The Republican nominee has said publicly that he is committed to encryption reform such that only "genuine military technology" would be safeguarded.

    Gore supports the administration's position on encryption and exports, Vega said. "The balance we've achieved (between national security and economic competitiveness) is fine," he added.

    Areas of agreement
    Both candidates claim to be the leaders in advocating privacy online. Bush supports a privacy policy that is "opt-in entirely," Eskew said, meaning a Web surfer could never have personal information gathered and used by a Web site without permission.

    Gore has called for an "Electronic Bill of Rights for Privacy" that would ensure that consumers know how and why their personal information is being collected. In addition, individuals would have the right to block the transfer of information to third parties and could verify the accuracy of their personal information.

    Separately, Bush and Gore are in perfect agreement on the research and development tax credit. Both candidates say they wish to make the credit permanent and to remove the uncertainty of whether Congress will continue renewals. That uncertainty is said to hurt research and development investments in long-term projects.

    Who is the bigger techie?
    Beyond privacy and tax issues, Bush and Gore present themselves as the overall logical choice of the technology community. Gore has actively promoted his fostering of the developing Internet while in the U.S. Senate, and Bush has claimed credit for the technology boom in Texas.

    In a somewhat surprising move, Gore has not tried to dodge his unfortunate remark earlier this year in which he casually suggested he had invented the Internet. Prominently displayed on his Web site are several quotes that suggest that if Gore didn't in fact invent the Internet, he came close.

    "I think it is very fair to say that the Internet would not be where it is in the United States without the strong support given to it and related research areas by the vice president in his current role and in his earlier role as senator," WorldCom senior vice president Vinton Cerf is quoted as saying. The site notes Cerf is known as the "Father of the Internet."

    Netscape Communications co-founder Marc Andreessen is quoted as making a similar claim in support of Gore. Finally, Columbia University computer science professor Joseph Traub is quoted as saying that in light of all Gore has done to promote networking, "could we perhaps see an end to cheap shots from politicians and pundits about inventing the Internet?"

    Bush is quick to point out that Texas is first in the nation in high-tech export growth and second to California in high-tech job growth and employment. One reason for that is legal reform he launched in Texas "to end frivolous lawsuits," according to his campaign literature. He also points to incentives he launched for research and development and to taxes he cut on Internet access and data processing.

    Prominent high-tech executives can be found in both candidate's camps. Gore is favored by Andreessen and others, while Bush has a 350-member high-tech council of executives that includes Cisco Systems chief executive John Chambers and Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell.