The 113th Congress is poised to have a second half that is potentially as spectacular and certainly more significant than the historic comeback by the Indianapolis Colts in the National Football League playoffs this past weekend. Much like the football analysts on ESPN, the policy punditocracy have given up on the prospect for any real productivity from this Congress. We in the tech sector, however, are approaching the congressional second half with a sense of purpose and optimism.
Our optimism is rooted in studying the playbook from other significant legislative sessions. In fact, some of the most significant legislative initiatives over the last two decades occurred in the second half of a Congress and during an election year. In 1986, Congress passed both comprehensive immigration and tax reforms. In 2000, Congress expanded and extended the critically important H-1B visa program, and reduced trade barriers with China. And in 2004, Congress expanded the H-1B program for U.S. advanced degree graduates, and made improvements to the tax code to spur manufacturing and drive domestic investment in the U.S. economy.
The current Congress is poised to rival, if not surpass, those prior achievements. That may be a surprise to many, given how much Congress has been maligned of late, but a closer look at congressional activity in 2013 reveals the emergence of a strong bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who understand and are committed to pro-innovation, pro-growth policies. With strong bipartisan majorities, in 2013, Congress enacted legislation to extend and reform the National Helium Reserve, which is essential to the development and manufacturing of key technology components, including semiconductors and fiber-optic cable. Last year, bipartisan majorities in the House of Representatives passed a package of cybersecurity bills and patent litigation reform, while the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform with a large bipartisan majority. There are also emerging bipartisan coalitions on trade promotion, energy efficiency, surveillance reform, acquisition reform, and even tax reform.
As the 113th Congress takes the policymaking field for its second half, the tech sector will be focused on working with Congress to put policy points on the board through the passage of:
Immigration Reform: With passage of the Senate “Gang of 8” bill last summer, and House committee approval of five key immigration reform bills, Congress has not been this far along in the legislative process on immigration reform since 1986 – when a divided Congress sent President Ronald Reagan a comprehensive reform bill. For the tech sector, comprehensive immigration reform is essential to ensure the U.S. remains the central hub of the innovation supply chain.
Patent Litigation Reform: So-called “patent assertion entities” or “patent trolls” have abused our legal system to extract literally tens of billions of dollars in settlement costs and legal fees. These costs continue to mount and represent lost opportunities for innovation and growth. House-passed legislation would bring much-needed reforms to our litigation system, and the Senate is preparing to act soon.
Trade Promotion: The U.S. is poised for a series of landmark trade deals that will enable U.S.-based companies to grow and innovate domestically while competing and winning globally. Enacting trade promotion legislation this year is a critical first step in that process.
Surveillance Reform: News reports driven by documents leaked by Edward Snowden have fueled protectionist localization policy moves in global capitals from Brasilia to Brussels. Action by Congress on targeted reforms to our surveillance policies will be important to successfully push back against the balkanization of the Internet and global innovation.
Energy Efficiency: Bipartisan energy efficiency legislation has the potential to advance information and communications technology (ICT) as a key component of both federal data center efficiency, and broader global sustainability efforts.
Acquisition Reform: The recent very public challenges in implementing healthcare.org have raised greater bipartisan interest in acquisition reform in Congress. The right approaches can make the federal government a smarter and more effective buyer and user of technology to advance good governance.
Tax Reform: Perhaps no policy initiative will do more to impact U.S. investment, competitiveness and job creation than tax reform. A reduced, competitive corporate tax rate, combined with a market-based international tax system and investment incentives, will establish a firm foundation for U.S. economic growth and vitality for decades to come.
This second half agenda is certainly ambitious, but is also quite achievable. Each of these initiatives has bipartisan legislative and broad public support. And that’s no surprise. Taken together, this is a policy agenda geared toward reigniting American dynamism and innovation, and one that is perfectly timed for congressional action. Ours is an economy poised for new growth and new opportunities. With a strong second half, Congress can mark 2014 as a year in which it makes history for its legacy and for our economic future.