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Dems will change tech course

New committee make-up should damper energy, H1-B, and telecom reform. 5/28 ReleVents hed: Dems will change tech course dek: New committee make-up should damper energy, H1-B, and telecom reform. By James Mathewson

It will take a few weeks for the aftershocks in Washington to subside after Vermont Senator James Jeffords’ earthquake announcement rocked the capital. For those just returning from vacation, I’m speaking of Jeffords’ defection from the Republican party and the resulting shift of power in the Senate from the Republican to the Democratic majority.

While Jeffords’ voting–he tended to vote more on the Democratic than the Repulican side–won’t force Vice President Cheney to change his plans too often around key votes, the committee make-up is the key. Several partisan Republican committee chairmen, who would have fast-tracked a lot of Bush policy, will now have to sit and watch someone else take a more critical eye to those decisions. And many of the conservative-leaning bills will be amended to the left as a result.

A news story on our site last week detailed some of the key committee changes and, in those cases, most tech industry insiders say it won’t affect the tech agenda much, with the possible exception of privacy.

I will leave that analysis to you and instead focus on three areas not covered in that story that likely will be affected by the switch: energy, immigration, and telecom reform. Though several committees that will review bills in these areas are not yet settled, at the very least, having a different chairman will dilute Bush’s conservative agenda.

On energy, Bush is pushing for exploration in wildlife areas, lower power-plant emissions standards, more coal burning, and a re-entry into the nuclear business. Conspicuously absent is a focus on conservation. All of these aspects of the Bush energy policy will be challenged if, for example, Joe Lieberman gets to chair the Governmental Affairs Committee, as expected.

As for H-1B, consider that Jesse Helms currently chairs the International Affairs Committee. Anyone else will likely raise doubts about the H-1B quick fix, while Helms would likely champion increased H-1B quotas. And on telecom, likely new Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings will not rubber-stamp the Senate version of the Tauzin bill, that’s for sure.

It will be interesting to see what bills are merely tabled as a result of the tremors Jeffords causes. When the dust settles and balance is restored to Congress, my hope is that we will once again see laws that take both corporate and personal issues into account.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and

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