Republicans to Unfurl 'eContract 2000'

WASHINGTON (05/09/2000) - The Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives will unveil its "eContract 2000" tomorrow to spotlight an upcoming flurry of House votes on high-technology issues ranging from e-commerce sales taxes to PNTR (permanent normal trade relations) for China.

Top-ranking Republican congressmen, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican, Illinois, majority leader Dick Armey, Republican, Texas, and Republican conference chairman J.C. Watts, Republican, Oklahoma, will lead a bevy of their Republican brethren in a flashy Capitol Hill press conference that's scheduled to be Webcast live via and Yahoo. Republican lawmakers will affix their digital signatures to the eContract, a move reminiscent of their mass signing of 1994's broader "Contract With America," which led to the Republicans' first capture of a House majority in 42 years.

Like the Contract With America, and the Republican Party's June 1999 "eContract With High-Tech America," the eContract 2000 will be a series of written pledges to remove government as completely as possible from regulation of the Internet Economy. It will seek to lower taxes and regulatory barriers, and promote free trade and e-commerce, according to Armey spokesman Richard Diamond.

The Republican leadership has purposefully scheduled a vote for Wednesday on the Internet Non-Discrimination Act, which seeks to extend the current moratorium on e-commerce sales taxes for five years after its October 2001 expiration. The bill, which passed the House Judiciary Committee last week on a 29-8 vote, is expected to win approval from the entire chamber in some form.

But the bill's proponents aren't taking anything for granted -- the antitax group Americans for Tax Reform sent out an e-mail to its supporters, asking them to call and e-mail Capitol Hill, especially the office of Representative Ernest Istook Jr., Republican, Oklahoma.

"This morning, Americans for Tax Reform learned that Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma has fallen for the politicians' line, that enabling state and local governments to add NEW and DISCRIMINATORY taxes on the Internet is necessary, despite the fact that state and local governments are FLUSH with cash," the organization's e-mail message stated.

The e-mail is apparently a response to a "Dear Colleague" letter Istook circulated to fellow House members today, urging them not to rush to extend the tax moratorium without carefully studying its ramifications. Istook is one of 17 House Republicans said to oppose a five-year moratorium extension. That means that unless enough House Democrats cross over to join the Republican leadership, which commands a majority of just six seats, the bill will be amended in some way, perhaps by shortening the extension.

"Do we abandon the people and businesses who for decades have built and sustained our communities, to chase after the 'hot new number?' " Istook said.

He asked his colleagues to "take a more complete and thorough approach to the tax issues sparked by sales through the Internet."

The 1998 Internet Tax Freedom Act, which established the current moratorium on e-commerce sales taxes, also created a blue-ribbon advisory commission to study the issue. The commission held four high-profile meetings around the country before deadlocking in late March. The commission's final report to U.S.

Congress included no official recommendations other than calls for respecting Internet consumer privacy, bridging the digital divide and banning international e-commerce tariffs. A simple majority of the commission recommended that Congress extend the moratorium for five years.

The bill up for yesterday's vote is just the first in a string of high-tech-related bills that the House leadership intends to put to floor votes before the next House recess, scheduled to begin May 26. The GOP leadership wants to pass bills that would repeal the 3 percent federal excise tax on telecommunications, permanently ban Internet access taxes, and lift the cap on H-1B visas to allow 200,000 more skilled foreign high-tech workers into the U.S. every year. Legislation that would make electronic signatures legally binding is bogged down in a bicameral conference committee after the House and Senate passed different versions last year.

This year's most hotly contested high-technology issue by far is the question of granting permanent normal trade relations to China. U.S. President Clinton Bill supports permanent normal trade relations for China, and a House vote is scheduled for the week of May 22. The issue has pitted the high-tech lobby and free-traders against labor, environmental and religious groups. These groups fear that if the U.S. extends permanent normal trade rules to China, then China would be less likely to reform what they say are abysmal track records on human rights and the environment.

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