Gore, Boxer instrumental in getting H-1B into omnibus spending bill


11th-Hour Victory For Tech
Visa increase, R&D tax measure in budget bill
Tom Abate, Jon Swartz, Chronicle Staff Writers 
San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, October 16, 1998 

The high-tech industry was in high spirits yesterday after scoring a series of 11th-hour legislative victories -- just days after it looked like its political agenda might get shut out.

In an adroit political move, tech leaders got several of their stalled measures included in the $500 billion omnibus appropriations bill that was hammered out yesterday between Congress and the White House. Congress is expected to pass the bill today. The tech measures include:

-- A three-year increase in the number of foreign workers who can be hired under H-1B visas.

-- A three-year moratorium on new local and state Internet taxes.

-- A one-year extension of the research-and-development tax credit.

Together with tech-backed measures that recently passed Congress -- a bill banning securities litigation in state courts, a digital-copyright act and limits on lawsuits for Y2K flaws -- yesterday's action capped a remarkable, come-from-behind legislative windfall for Silicon Valley. ``It marks a coming of age for tech in wielding influence in the Beltway,'' said Jon Englund, a vice president at the Information Technology Association of America in Washington. ``This is a banner day for the industry that will translate into more jobs and a more competitive U.S. technology industry.''

But even last night, Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who nearly scuttled the H-1B bill with a parliamentary maneuver on Friday, hinted that he also might try to stall the budget bill because it includes the H-1B increase. It was unclear what the effect of his maneuver might be.

Throughout the week, a number of organizations, spearheaded by ITAA and the bipartisan lobbying group TechNet, have been working feverishly behind the scenes to repackage the tech bills. Their efforts were aided by the fact that Republicans and Democrats put aside their bickering to ease passage of the tech bills, as both parties vie for the favor of an increasingly influential Silicon Valley lobby. 

With the budget -- and the tech measures -- now apparently headed for President Clinton's expected signature, the bipartisan spirit was replaced by polite credit-taking.

During a conference call yesterday, TechNet leader Brook Byers attributed this ``remarkable achievement'' to the leadership of Vice President Al Gore. Byers also praised Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., for doing some ``heavy lifting'' to get the H-1B bill included in the budget.

But TechNet's Republican spokeswoman, Lezlee Westine, pointed out that Boxer's challenger, Matt Fong, had lobbied U.S. senators to make sure the R&D tax credit was appended to the budget package.

The H-1B provision was the hardest fight. The controversial measure was opposed by labor groups who managed one delay after another right up until Friday, when a lone senator -- Harkin -- nearly killed the bill.

Mary Dee Beall, who lobbied for Hewlett-Packard on the H-1B issue, credited Senator Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., and Representative Lamar Smith, R-Texas, for reviving the bill.

``It wouldn't have gotten done at all if Abraham hadn't stayed behind
it,'' Beall said. ``It wouldn't have the worker protections it does if
Smith hadn't insisted.''