Congress can provide incentives for companies bringing back work from offshore to high unemployment areas.

Some companies with facilities in the United States and offshore may shift work back to the United States if provided with modest incentives to do so. Toward that end, Congress should charge the Economic Development Administration with providing forgivable loans for companies that expand employment in high un employment counties by bringing back jobs from overseas. The loans would be forgivable if the company creates and retains the jobs promised. It is important to note that the difference between this kind of proposal and simple job creation tax credits is that this is targeted at influencing the location of a job that has already been created, rather than at getting a firm to create a new job.

Congress should exempt the first $2,500 of unemployment insurance benefits from federal income tax.

Displaced workers often can find new work only in jobs that, at least at the outset, pay lower wages. The federal government can help displaced workers — and encourage them to find new jobs — by providing wage insurance. Yet cash-strapped states with budget neutrality rules in their constitutions may not be able to provide the level of assistance that many workers need. Within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act the federal government allowed the first $2,400 of unemployment insurance to be exempt from federal income tax. Yet the exemption was only for 2009. Congress should make the exemption permanent.

The FCC should expand Lifeline services beyond basic telephone service to broadband service.

Lifeline is a federally mandated government program that offers low-income households a discount on their monthly local telephone bill for basic telephone service. In a world where many households have the ability to use broadband for voice services (VOIP), it is anachronistic for this program not to allow consumers to use the subsidy for either traditional voice service (wired or wireless) or broadband. Congress and the FCC should reform the program by allowing Lifeline recipients to use the support for whatever service they choose: plain old telephone service (POTS), mobile telephony, or broadband.

Congress creates an auction system for temporary H-1B visas as a means of allocating visas to the fields in which demand is the strongest.

As long as Congress limits the number of H-1B visas that can be issued, demand will likely be higher than supply. The current “first come, first serve” formula of allocation visas is inefficient and some organizations with the most need for H-1B visas do not receive enough of them. Therefore, an auction system for some temporary high-skill visas might be considered as a means of allocating them to fields in which demand is the strongest and impact on the economy most beneficial. This would also raise funds.

The FCC should use E-rate funds to help defray the costs of low-income families owning a computer.

Without own ing a computer or similar device there is no reason to subscribe to broadband. One proposal that could sig nificantly expand computer ownership is to allow the FCC’s “E-rate” funds to be used to subsidize computer purchases by low-income families with students enrolled at E-rate eligible schools. Spurring broadband deployment and computer adoption among families with children can play a key cata lytic role in helping not only other family mem bers to become computer and Internet literate, but also extended family and neighbors. As such, policymakers should invest funds to help low-in come families with children purchase a com puter and get subsidized broadband service for one year. If such a program provided a subsidy (up to $300) equal to two-thirds of the cost of purchasing a PC, it would cost $450 million per year to provide PCs to 1.5 million low income households.

Congress should enact legislation to establish health record data banks.

Independent Health Record Trust Act introduced by Rep. Moore (D-KS) and Rep. Ryan (R-WI), for example, would establish federally regulated health record data banks. This legislation establishes a fiduciary duty for each health record data bank to act for the benefit of its participants and prescribes penalties for a breach of these responsibilities. In addition, the bill prohibits the data bank operators from charging fees to health care providers for accessing or updating an EHR to which they have been given access. The legislation specifically states that all participation in the health record data bank is voluntary, and no entity, including employer, health insurance issuer or health care provider can compel participation.

Congress can allow broadband providers to accelerate the depreciation, for tax purposes, of network equipment.

The government should allow companies investing in broadband networks to expense investments in new high speed broadband networks (capable of delivering considerably faster speeds than today’s average DSL or cable networks) in the first year. Currently, companies must depreciate telecommunications network investments over a period of fifteen years. Allowing companies to deduct the investment in the first year reduces the costs of making these investments and spurs faster deployment of higher speed networks.

To help patients access their health records more easily, Congress should require doctors to provide patients with an electronic copy of their health information upon request.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) established the right for individuals to obtain a paper copy of their health care records from their doctors. Congress should update this legislation to require doctors to provide patients with an electronic copy of their health information upon request. Under the current law, health care providers can charge reasonable fees associated with the cost of copying and mailing paper health care records, but they cannot charge fees for the time spent searching for or retrieving the records. We propose establishing a threshold date after which patients will no longer be charged for electronic copies of their health records. created after the threshold date. Patients would be charged only for paper records from before this date. This mandate would protect patients’ right of access to their medical information while also providing an economic incentive for medical practices to move to EHRs.

Congress can invest in reusable digital content and applications to better communicate with and protect citizens.

Although the fixed costs of producing data or an application might be high, one of digital information’s benefits is that the marginal cost of creating an additional copy is typically minimal. Creating digital data using interoperable standards, such as sharable and reusable Extensible Markup Language (XML), multiplies its value many times — this can be far more valuable than just building a Web site or an application that solves a single problem.

Congress should double the DOE’s Energy Frontier Research Centers budget to $300 million by FY2014.

The budget for EFRCs should be doubled from current levels of about $155 million in annual project support awarded in FY2009 to at least $300 million per year by FY2013. This funding would be sufficient to support 60-150 EFRC projects ongoing at any given time and capable of catalyzing cutting-edge research at the frontier of energy sciences.
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