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Technology can fix the budget crisis, say former FCC officials

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A pair of Clinton-era telecom regulators and “card-carrying Democrats” want to bring back some of the economic magic of the go-go 1990s with an ambitious plan to accelerate growth, shrink the national debt while revolutionizing the delivery of government services, and help slow global warming.

The plan from former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt and his former chief of staff, Blair Levin,  is outlined in an e-book called The Politics of Abundance: How Technology Can Fix the Budget, Revive the American Dream, and Establish Obama’s Legacy. It modestly proposes that huge economic growth can be spurred through reconfiguring the way energy is produced, purchased, and consumed. At the same time, the government can generate new efficiencies and savings using broadband applications in health care and education.

All it’s going to take is a grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats in which revenue from a big new emissions tax that targets energy generated by nonrenewable sources and from utility regulation reform is swapped for lower personal and corporate tax rates and a reduction in taxes U.S.-based multinationals pay on repatriated foreign profits.

It sounds like a pipe dream, but Hundt and Levin think it’s possible. “We did not put one thing in that we thought Republicans would overwhelmingly oppose,” Hundt said Tuesday morning at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

The two are shopping their plan to policymakers, lobbyists, industry leaders, and think tankers. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., recommended it to his caucus in a letter, calling the book, “a thoughtful, forward-looking, and optimistic prescription for President Obama’s second term, and I commend it to your consideration.”

On the technology side, the plan calls for raising $45 billion thorough a spectrum auction and spectrum management fees. Some of these funds will go to an effort to digitize all government information and move it to a cloud-based system. “The government should not be the last institution in the social landscape to know which way the digital wind is blowing,” they write.

They offer a laundry list of recommendations for executive actions to push government services online, including the elimination of paper from government, creating a secure system for digital voting, new standards for making online medical records interoperable, new telemedicine rules that allow for delivery of services across state lines, and rewarding school districts that use digital course materials including electronic textbooks. They would also centralize all government spectrum leasing through the Office of Management and Budget, taking that role away from the military and government agencies that currently hold the spectrum.

Hundt said he and Levin wrote the book in anticipation of an Obama victory in the November elections. He offered another prediction — that the Obama administration and Congress will come to terms on a compromise to avert the combination of tax hikes and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff. He expects a deal to include tax hikes on top earners, and a postponement of a reckoning on taxes and entitlements. As Obama pivots to his second-term agenda, Hundt said that the president will find a Congress “that will want accomplishments.”

The two faced a skeptical audience. Seth Bloom, general counsel on the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, said that such transformative legislation faces strong headwinds in Congress. Filibuster reform, he said, “could be the most important thing in getting stuff like this to move.”

(Image via jannoon028 /Shutterstock.com)

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