Tying high-tech innovation to prosperity, President Bush is using a speech in a swing state to address an election-year vulnerability: a sluggish job market that hasn’t rebounded with the nationaleconomy. In a speech Monday in Minnesota, Bush is urging Congress to slap a permanent ban on taxes consumers pay for high-speed Internet hookups called broadband. He also is touting proposals to makeelectronic medical records the norm and move hydrogen fuel technology from the lab to the showroom.
The White House on Sunday night released a 14-page summary of the remarks Bush is scheduled to make to about 2,000 community college, business and other leaders attending the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention in Minneapolis.
After the speech, the president attends a Republican fund-raiser – his fourth such event in a week – at a private residence in Edina, a well-heeled suburb in the Twin Cities.
Bush is announcing that the Energy Department has selected partners for more than $350 million in new research projects to remove roadblocks to developing hydrogen fuel technology. The projects will address the problem of storing hydrogen on vehicles; increasing consumers’ knowledge about hydrogen energy and making hydrogen fuel cells that are both durable and affordable.
Bush also is setting a goal for most Americans to have electronic health records within 10 years. Paper ones, he says, can lead to errors, inefficiencies and poor communication among doctors and nurses. To help reach the goal, the president is creating a national health information technology coordinator, a sub-Cabinet-level position.
On broadband, the name for the high-speed Internet connections over phone, cable and satellites, Bush said in a speech last week that America is “lagging a little bit.” To encourage more broadband connections, he believes users should not be taxed, and that the government should encourage competition among providers.
Bush has already signed into a law a two-year extension of the Internet Access Tax moratorium, which expired last fall. Now, he’s calling on Congress to pass legislation that would extend the moratorium to broadband and make it permanent.
The House has passed a moratorium on user taxes levied against consumers who subscribe to broadband; the Senate is scheduled to address the issue this week.
Bush’s eighth presidential trip to Minnesota, a state Al Gore won in 2000, comes as Democratic challenger John Kerry begins a three-day swing through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan to focus on jobs.
Democrats call Bush’s job creation record the worst of any president since the Great Depression. Since Bush took office, 1.84 million jobs have been lost, but after months of dismal job growth, the nation’s employers in March added workers at the quickest pace in four years, swelling payrolls by 308,000.
Even so, the unemployment rate inched up a tenth of a point to 5.7 percent as more people were encouraged to start looking for work again but failed to find jobs.
“Bush has spent the last four years making empty but convenient promises rather than offering real solutions to create new and better jobs,” Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Kerry, said in a statement.
“The Bush broadband policies don’t do anything to provide the new resources that will be needed to deploy broadband in rural and urban areas and they are not addressing the regulatory barriers that prevent deployment.
“There is a bill before Congress – that has been championed by John Kerry – that gives tax incentives to companies to deploy broadband in underserved areas,” Cutter continued. “If Bush cares about this issue, he could have made it a priority in any of his three tax cuts or even today ask Congress to send him the legislation.”
The administration has been criticized by some technology industry leaders as indifferent toward their business interests. Months from the election, this is perhaps an olive branch to the industry.
Bush on Monday also signs an executive memo that makes it easier for technology companies to run high-speed lines across federal lands. That barrier, however, has not been blamed for the slow broadband growth in America, compared with the explosion of broadband in Pacific Rim nations.
Rather, industry executives say, the problem is caused by infighting between telecommunications companies controlling connections into individual houses.
Most computer users access the Internet through dial-up services, but broadband connections, through phone and cable lines and satellites, are faster. Broadband, which costs about $40 to $50 a month, depending on location, also features video conferencing, which, for example, allows doctors or teachers in different cities to communicate with their colleagues or students.
Broadband grew from about 7 million subscribers in December 2000 to nearly 24 million in June 2003. About 90 percent of all U.S. ZIP codes have access to at least one form of broadband connection – up from about 70 percent at the end of 2000.
Source: Associated Press