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Eyes on a Silicon Jackpot

Both GOP and Dems curry high-tech - and its money

Both the Republican and Democratic parties are competing to be seen as sole champion of the high-tech industry. They want the political luster and campaign lucre that may come from being protector of a dotcom economy.

The latest example is the GOP's "E-Contract," an imitation of its 1994 "Contract With America" that helped Republicans win the House. Its promises are sure to please Silicon Valley execs - tax cuts to spur research, bars against frivolous lawsuits related to e-commerce, and new benefits for telecommuters, among them.

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The Democrats earlier rolled out their own "E-Agenda," with a similar lineup of offerings.

Both parties are maneuvering, as well, to back legislation favored by high-tech. Foremost is the establishment of permanent normalized trade relations (PNTR) with China, which is seen by the industry as a vast market for its software, hardware, and cyberservices.

This step, however, exposes sharp divisions within the parties. The Democrats, in particular, have intramural battles between free traders and protectionists - the latter allied with labor unions jittery about losing jobs to overseas workers. But with Al Gore now firmly behind PNTR and House minority leader Dick Gephardt a less than ardent opponent, the pull of high-tech interests is evident.

That same "e-influence" is seen in the growing consensus to pass a bill greatly expanding the number of H1B visas available to foreign-skilled - make that computer-savvy - workers. Both parties are poised to act, and even those who normally take a tough stand on immigration issues are falling into line. Again, the need to keep the high-tech "golden goose" content may trump other concerns.

On such issues as free trade, foreign-skilled workers, and fending off e-commerce taxes, the debate has become clouded because the two parties' are trying to curry favor with these well-organized and well-heeled campaign donors. All the proposed steps probably make good sense on their merits. But where is the call for economic wisdom and serving the general public in this e-politics?

Perhaps the parties should just rework an old slogan and admit they favor this: "What's good for Silicon Valley is good for America."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society