GOP Unveils Updated Net Initiatives

In a high-profile signing session on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning — carried live on the Web and followed by an Internet “rally” — Republican leaders rolled out a list of e-commerce and Internet-related pledges contained in the GOP’s eContract 2000.

Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Illinois and House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas emceed the event, which also featured such heavy hitters as House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas and House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, Jr. of Oklahoma.

The eContract embodies the GOP promise to remove barriers to e-commerce, seek tax cuts to spur further innovation and development, push for wider availability of high-speed Internet access, protect intellectual property rights, stifle “frivolous lawsuits,” develop a quality, tech-oriented work force and wire America’s schools.

e-Tax Issue

The GOP pledge to support a tax-free Internet is at the forefront of the eContract 2000. Though the e-tax issue has been a focal point of partisan disagreement, House deliberations on the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce (ACEC), which began Wednesday morning, are likely be short.

After a stormy series of meetings, the ACEC made a recommendation to extend the Internet tax moratorium “for a few more years.” The only argument now is over the time frame — the Democrats favor two or three years over the Republicans’ preference for five.

In debate Wednesday morning on the House floor, Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Texas criticized the Republicans for “their dogmatic zeal to junk the income tax code,” and for moving the measure too quickly through Congress without adequate discussion between the parties.

Take Two

The original eContract was unveiled with similar pomp last year and then faded from view. At that time, the Republican leadership embraced the high-tech revolution for overhauling the nature of work in America and bringing “peace of mind to our daily lives.”

However, since Armey originally introduced the eContract a year ago, some observers are criticizing the event as a politically motivated effort to steer credit for the strong, tech-driven U.S. economy away from the Clinton-Gore administration. As the 2000 election battle between Republican George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore heats up, technology and related issues are expected to become a key battleground.

Digital Divide

The new version of the eContract acknowledges that underprivileged urban and rural communities need help getting access to the Internet and its benefits. Extending opportunities to those areas, to bridge the so-called “digital divide,” has been a high priority of the Clinton-Gore administration.

The eContract also applauds the high-tech industry as “the engine of our economic prosperity, creating new jobs and new opportunities for all Americans” and praises “private sector creativity, innovation, and competition rather than government direction” as the fuel for that growth.

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