Supporters lay out tech reasons to vote for Obama, McCain

Supporters of Barack Obama and John McCain debated tech policy, discussing topics like universal broadband, H-1B visas and business taxes.

Barack Obama could either raise taxes on corporations and worker savings plans if he becomes U.S. president, or he could focus on bringing broadband to everyone across the U.S.

Those were the conflicting messages from supporters of Obama and Republican rival John McCain when they laid out the tech-related reasons why voters should support their candidates during two separate forums in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

Obama, a Democratic senator, has talked about raising income taxes for some small businesses and raising the capital gains tax, said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a McCain supporter. Obama has also talked about raising the dividends tax significantly, he said.

"You might ask the people in your companies what that would do to the value of the stock in your company, to the wealth of your company, to your company's ability to pay bills," he said. "You might also take a look at what it would do to the value of your 401(k) [savings plan]."

Norquist largely focused on tax policy and trade policy during a morning forum hosted by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He often criticized Obama's proposals instead of talking about McCain's plans for tech-related issues.

Obama supporters Larry Irving, president and CEO of the Irving Information Group and a telecom advisor for former President Bill Clinton, and Reed Hundt, an Obama advisor and former chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, talked a lot about Obama's proposals to give U.S. residents more access to broadband and to open up government by using technology.

Hundt spoke at an afternoon forum sponsored by the New American Foundation, a think tank that tends to agree with Obama on many tech issues. McCain economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin was a no-show for the New America event.

McCain, a senator from Arizona, wants to cut corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent, while Obama wants to increase some taxes on large businesses, Norquist said. Many other industrialized countries have a lower corporate tax rate than the U.S., Norquist added. "People are going to be moving businesses, income and wealth and incorporating in those countries that have lower corporate income taxes," he said.

Hundt focused largely on broadband and on improving the U.S. economy so that there's money to invest in broadband. Asked about Obama's view on making broadband available to more U.S. residents, Hundt said the goal is to help people connect with each other and to resources. "The real commitment is to have our entire democracy include absolutely everyone," he said. "When we say universal broadband, what we mean is universal community."

One question to Hundt suggested Obama has been lukewarm on increasing the number of H-1B visas for high-skilled workers to come into the U.S. Hundt disagreed, saying Obama has supported temporary increases in the H-1B cap as part of comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that the U.S. Congress hasn't been able to push through in recent years.

"Americans want a resolution," Hundt said. "We want to know what the [immigration] rules are."

At the earlier debate, Norquist suggested Obama wants to restrict high-skill immigration and international trade. McCain wants free trade, he said. "This is a guy who understands the international world," Norquist said.

Norquist also said Obama and his allies in Congress will attempt to regulate the Internet and the tech industry. Democrats will push net neutrality laws and push for less private ownership of wireless spectrum, he said. Democrats in Washington want to control spectrum, instead of allowing private companies to control it, he said.

"They'll regulate [the Internet] and beat it to death, and when's its not moving they'll subsidize it," Norquist said.

Irving and later, Hundt, suggested Congress may not need to pass a net neutrality law, after the FCC ruled in August against Comcast for slowing some peer-to-peer traffic. "No one wants to nationalize the Internet," Irving said. "What people are talking about is making sure the Internet is open, available and accessible to any person and any entity and any new idea that folks want to bring forward."

Democrats don't want to regulate the Internet in a way that discourages investment in new technologies, Irving said. But net neutrality rules and comprehensive privacy rules may be necessary, he added.

Steve Coll, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, said debates about tech policy are needed because tech issues have been generally overlooked in the presidential campaign.

"If you were to choose a single subject in which you might argue there's the greatest gap between the daily experience of Americans and the discourse of the presidential campaign, I think you could make a case it lies in technology," Coll said. "We've heard virtually nothing from the campaigns, and yet, connectivity and technology is a pervasive part of ... our economy."

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Grant Gross

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