MINNEAPOLIS – President Bush on Monday urged Congress to slap a permanent ban on taxes consumers pay for high-speed Internet hookups called broadband (search). During a speech in Minnesota, he also touted proposals to make electronic medical records the norm and move hydrogen fuel technology from the lab to the showroom.
"There are jobs being created during this period of economic transition," Bush told about 2,000 community college, business and other leaders attending the American Association of Community Colleges (search) annual convention in Minneapolis. "Yet, there are willing workers who don't have the skill sets necessary to fill those jobs."
Tying high-tech innovation to prosperity, Bush made a campaign stop in a swing state to address an election-year vulnerability: a sluggish job market that hasn't rebounded with the national economy.
After the speech, the president was headed to a $1 million Republican fund-raiser — his fourth such event in a week — at a private residence in Edina, a well-heeled suburb in the Twin Cities.
Bush announced that the Energy Department has selected partners for more than $350 million in new research projects to remove roadblocks to developing hydrogen fuel technology. The projects will address the problem of storing hydrogen on vehicles; increasing consumers' knowledge about hydrogen energy and making hydrogen fuel cells that are both durable and affordable.
Bush also set a goal for most Americans to have electronic health records within 10 years. Paper ones, he says, can lead to errors, inefficiencies and poor communication among doctors and nurses. To help reach the goal, the president is creating a national health information technology coordinator, a sub-Cabinet-level position.
On broadband, the name for the high-speed Internet connections over phone, cable and satellites, Bush said users should not be taxed, and that the government should encourage competition among providers.
Bush has already signed into a law a two-year extension of the Internet Access Tax moratorium, which expired last fall. Now, he's calling on Congress to pass legislation that would extend the moratorium to broadband and make it permanent.
The House has passed a moratorium on user taxes levied against consumers who subscribe to broadband; the Senate is scheduled to address the issue this week.
Bush also signed an executive memo on Monday that makes it easier for technology companies to run high-speed lines across federal lands.
Most computer users access the Internet through dial-up services, but broadband connections, through phone and cable lines and satellites, are faster. Broadband, which costs about $40 to $50 a month, depending on location, also features video conferencing, which, for example, allows doctors or teachers in different cities to communicate with their colleagues or students.
Bush's eighth presidential trip to Minnesota, a state Al Gore won in 2000, comes as Democratic challenger John Kerry begins a three-day swing through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan to focus on jobs.
As Kerry visited West Virginia on Monday, Bush's campaign ran full-page ads in two Wheeling newspapers, listing the top 10 questions the GOP believes voters should ask Kerry. Bush's campaign also rolled out television ads accusing Kerry of opposing weapons such as Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Patriot missiles, B-2 stealth bombers and F-18 fighter jet. The ads will run nationally on cable networks, and versions also are tailored to nine states.
Democrats call Bush's job creation record the worst of any president since the Great Depression. Since Bush took office, 1.84 million jobs have been lost, but after months of dismal job growth, the nation's employers in March added workers at the quickest pace in four years, swelling payrolls by 308,000.
Even so, the unemployment rate inched up a tenth of a point to 5.7 percent as more people were encouraged to start looking for work again but failed to find jobs.
"Bush has spent the last four years making empty but convenient promises rather than offering real solutions to create new and better jobs," Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Kerry, said in a statement.
"The Bush broadband policies don't do anything to provide the new resources that will be needed to deploy broadband in rural and urban areas and they are not addressing the regulatory barriers that prevent deployment," the Kerry campaign said.