Is Paul Ryan Bad for Silicon Valley?
When you cast your ballot in the U.S. presidential election on November 7, remember this: the future of tech policy is up for grabs.
When the dust settles, the outcome will affect how the government legislates, funds and handles technology, and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate offers clues to what a Romney technology policy may look like.
Wired called Ryan a "technology noob," painting him as a Luddite hostile to innovation. This characterization may be a step too far -- Ryan's record indicates he's fairly balanced when it comes to voting on current technology issues. At the same time, his position on science and education funding calls for broad cuts to both programs, making him more of a foe than a friend to big-picture innovators seeking federal help.
First, some of his more moderate positions: Ryan is hawkish when it comes to fiscal policy, but he voted for the "Fairness For High-Skilled Immigrants Act," which removes immigration caps for skilled workers, including technology professionals. The bill passed with 96 percent in favor in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, garnering bipartisan support, so Ryan's approval was nothing outrageous.
Ryan also voted along with representatives on both sides of the aisle supporting the amended JOBS act, aimed at facilitating start-up investing. He also made news when he came out opposing SOPA after Reddit made a point to call for his public statement.
All of those stances are good for technology, but they're nothing unusual from a Republican congressman. As one of the GOP's figureheads, Ryan almost always votes with the rest of the party, and his technology stance in the middle of the Republican road is no exception.
Some of Ryan's decisions support the tech community, but others don't -- particularly his intention to slash science funding. The Obama campaign, which maintains Ryan's plan will cripple federally funded programs, criticizes Ryan's support of the cuts, highlighting the importance of federal science funding in creating the Internet.
At the same time, Ryan adamantly opposes cutting the Pentagon's budget. The Department of Defense also played a pivotal role in the rise of the Internet through one of its agencies, DARPA, which established the core network that laid the groundwork for the World Wide Web.
But Ryan and Obama agree on a tough cybersecurity policy. The Romney campaign paints Obama as soft on national security, but the president's stance on cybersecurity is something many staunch Republicans support. The Obama administration continued and enhanced George W. Bush's "Operation Olympic Games" program, which created both the Flame virus and Stuxnet, each used to infiltrate Iran's nuclear program.
Ryan may not want to admit his stance on cybersecurity is in line with Obama's, but there are plenty of areas where the politicians diverge. For instance, the Obama administration encouraged the creation of "Digital Promise," an education center for advanced technology run by the Department of Education and private foundations. In addition to cutting science programs, Ryan also wants to trim the education, training and social services budget by 33 percent, meaning programs like Digital Promise may be in jeopardy if Romney takes his advice while in office.
Romney's campaign saw an influx of support from Silicon Valley due to Obama's push for strict regulations in the tech sector, but many high-profile players continue to support Obama. Ryan's tech funding cuts may cool the relationship between Romney and Valley bigwigs, but Romney is attempting to distinguish his own budget plan from his running mate's, noting that he won't enact the Ryan plan once in office.
Ryan hasn't made any particularly extreme statements about his feelings on the tech sector, choosing to vote along with the rest of the GOP on most important issues, but his plan would cut the government's investment in technology by $500 billion.
Supporters say this won't stymie innovation because the private sector can take care of itself, but people opposed to major cuts in tech may think twice before considering the Romney ticket. Even if Romney insists he won't adopt the Ryan Plan, a Republican-controlled White House will orchestrate major funding cuts and loosen regulations, which will have an impact on the tech sector for years to come. ♦
Categories: Editorials & Opinion