VP Pick, Paul Ryan, Has (Mostly) Been A Friend To Technology

I’m going to get a lot of hate mail for this article, but it’s a fact that Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential pick, Paul Ryan, has mostly been a friend to Silicon Valley and the technology industry. Ryan’s voting record has supported better access to high skilled immigrants, an open Internet, crowdfunding for startups, and intellectual property reform. However, his ambiguous stance on net neutrality and proposal to cut science funding leaves a noticeable scuff on his otherwise sterling record.

To be sure, this doesn’t differ much from Democrats or the Obama administration. Many of the bills we outline below had broad support throughout the tech sector and enjoyed broad bipartisan support. In other words, whoever wins in November, Silicon Valley can rest easy that the election won’t put an enemy of tech innovation in the White House.

The Good

  • The Fairness For High-Skilled Immigrants Act (H.R. 3012) – Ryan voted for a bill that ended country-specific caps on high-skilled immigrants. A disproportionate number of valuable immigrants come from Asia and the previous law treated a country like Iceland as an equally important supplier of talent as China and India.
  • SOPA – Ryan opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act, which could have given the federal government unprecedented powers to censor the Internet. While news headlines claim that a targeted campaign against Ryan, from the popular news aggregator, Reddit, caused him to switch his stance against the bill, the campaign actually just forced him to announce his position. Simply, he opposed it.
  • Crowdfunding (H.R. 3606) – Ryan supported the amended JOBS Act to open up access to more investors who wish to support startups.

The Bad

  • Science Funding – Ryan’s tax plan would take a hatchet to science funding. Contrary to what President Obama claims, not all science funding was critical to the creation of the Internet. Ryan’s plan would leave the Pentagon largely untouched, and it was the mad scientists over at ARPA that laid the foundation for the modern Internet. Still, publicly funded research universities have been (very) helpful to advancing technology and the creation of economic technology clusters, such as Silicon Valley. Ryan’s lack of support is troubling.

The Ambiguous

  • Net Neutrality – With respect to our friends at Wired, it’s unclear whether Ryan opposes net neutrality. While he did oppose a Democratic-backed bill to mandate net neutrality, so did virtually every single Republican, including long-time friends of the Internet, such as Congressman Darrell Issa. Conservatives had issue with empowering the Federal Communications Commission to regulate Internet Service Providers; it wasn’t a blanket opposition to Net Neutrality, itself. If the tea-party friendly Ryan was actually a staunch opponent of net neutrality, he would have jumped on the misguided Paul-family libertarian bandwagon, which wrongly claimed that the Internet developed without any help from the government. He also would have co-sponsored the anti-net neutrality bill, The Internet Freedom Act (H.R. 96), along with many of his conservative colleagues.
  • Education Funding – Ryan’s plan would also slash higher education grants. But, and this is sad, it’s the top tier of college students that really contribute to innovation. Whether it’s a Harvard drop-out or a community college student moonlighting as an entrepreneur, financial aid doesn’t seem to be necessary for the young go-getters and silver-spoon prodigies who move heaven and earth to innovate. Pell grants and other funding is certainly important for closing the tragic income inequality gap, but I’m yet to see good evidence that it’s necessary for technological advancement (feel free to point me to academic evidence in the comments below if you think I’m wrong).
  • America Invents Act (H.R 1249)- Ryan voted for the latest major overhaul of the American patent system, a bill supported by the Silicon Valley big dogs, such as Google. But, the tech community is still divided on how much patents actually contribute to innovation.

On the whole, this is great news: both Obama and team Romney have (largely) been supporters of policies that contribute to innovation. Regardless of who wins in November, the tech sector can be confident that it will have a friend in the White House.

[Photo Credit: Steve Maller]