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March 28, 2008

Post-Recess Agenda

Issues facing lawmakers returning from a two-week recess look similar to the list they faced earlier this year, with leaders pledging to take up Iraq, the economy, and federal spending.

The war and economic issues will take center stage in the Senate in the eight weeks before the Memorial Day recess, according to Majority Leader Reid’s staff. Senator Reid hopes to revisit the Democrats’ housing stimulus legislation and patent reform early on. Separate hearings on Iraq-related issues will get underway along with a supplemental spending bill scheduled for later April with a defense authorization measure in May.  Reid hopes to also take up an FDA overhaul and energy tax package prior to the May recess. 

The House schedule remains unclear but leadership indicates that they hope to address legislation providing funding to other countries to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The House expects to take up an Iraq war supplemental funding bills as well as the FY 09 Defense, Homeland Security and Military Construction appropriations bills prior to the May recess. 

Other possibilities on the agenda for both houses include legislation dealing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and possible action on a farm bill agreement.

Tech Policy Summit:  Patent System Reform Moving? 

Speaking at the Tech Policy Summit in Los Angeles earlier this week, a Hewlett-Packard researcher called on the federal government to advance an “innovation stimulus package” to help the nation remain competitive in the global marketplace. Part of that innovation package would include a proposal to make permanent a research and development tax credit that expired in December, 2007, that was first enacted in 1981. A number of groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, pressed to include this in the economic stimulus package adopted by Congress earlier this year.

Overhauling the nation’s patent laws would be another component of the “innovation stimulus package” and Patent and Trademark Office Director Jon Dudas predicted in his presentation at the summit that there was at least a 50% chance of legislation passing this year that would drastically alter the U.S. patent system. PTO officials have met with many senators and their aides in recent months and have encouraged them to support modifications to the legislation under consideration. 

Stakeholders have recognized that they must find a solution amenable to all business models for a bill to be brought to the floor but Dudas’ comments indicated that the parties were getting closer to agreement. In Washington, however, competing patent lobbying efforts continue. More than 1,000 organizations have signed multiple letters registering their displeasure with provisions of the Senate Bill. The Coalition for Patent Fairness, which is in support of the legislation, has sent an equal number of letters from their supporters.

H-1B Visa Lottery Opens April 1, Businesses Gear Up Campaign For More

Compete America, a coalition of businesses seeking more high-skilled work visas, began distributing mock H-1B lottery cards to Capitol Hill offices to call attending to the Homeland Security Department’s system for meting out the H-1B visas. Industry analysts expect the H-1B visa demand to far exceed the 65,000 slots available starting April 1. The lottery system was put in place by DHS officials to handle the influx but many believe the lottery process cannot reflect the diverse needs and demands of various sectors competing for the limited visas.

Compete America is focusing its lobbying on House members who are negotiating a stop-gap immigration package that would address a number of immigration-related issues, including H-1B shortages and the lack of low-skilled H-2B visas for temporary seasonal employment. Several members have introduced legislation that only addresses the high-skill visa shortage, but key lawmakers have said other immigration-related provisions, including increased enforcement measures must be included in any short-term relief package.

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