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6/1/2007
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Sen. Clinton's 'Innovation Agenda' Gets Warm Welcome In Silicon Valley

Clinton on Thursday unveiled a nine-point plan before a packed room of more than 200 upper executives of some of California's biggest high-tech companies.

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, a longtime friend to California's high-tech industry, introduced her "innovation agenda" to Silicon Valley's elite, who warmly embraced the New York senator's call for big increases in federal spending in alternative energy, biotechnology, and other areas of scientific research.

Clinton on Thursday unveiled a nine-point plan before a packed room of more than 200 upper executives of some of California's biggest high-tech companies. Clinton chose to unveil her proposals at the fourth annual CEO Business Climate Summit of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, whose members include Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Google, Microsoft, and many other tech giants.

The former first lady's 45-minute speech was punctuated by applause from the friendly crowd that listened to her plan for a $50-billion Strategic Energy Fund to finance research into alternative energy to wean the U.S. from foreign oil, while also lowering carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. "Ending energy dependence is the greatest innovation challenge that Americans have faced in generations," Clinton said.

Clinton drew her first applause by calling on Congress to close tax subsidies and loopholes currently enjoyed by oil companies. "I do think there's a role for subsidies, but for mature companies in mature markets, that has to be closely considered," she said.

Under Clinton's plan, oil companies that refused to invest in developing alternatives to fossil fuels would be required to contribute a portion of their earnings to the energy fund, which would provide tax incentives to homeowners and businesses that make their houses and offices more energy efficient, and offer tax credits to gas station owners who installed ethanol pumps. In addition, the fund would offer loan guarantees for the commercialization of bio-fuels made from plants, and provide incentives for the development of technology that contributes to a cleaner environment.

Clinton's agenda also included increasing by 50% over 10 years the basic research budgets of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Defense Department. Today, the federal government spends $28 billion a year on basic research. As the third point in her plan, Clinton proposed increasing the budget for the National Institute of Health by 50% over five years, with the aim to double it over 10 years.

Under the Bush administration, NIH funding has been flat since 2003, and the president has proposed reducing it by 1.1% in 2008, Clinton said. Such cuts could significantly affect the quantity and quality of university research, and impede biomedical advances. "The rug is being pulled out from some of our greatest minds," she said.

Clinton's proposals also included tripling the number of National Science Foundation fellowships, a key financial resource for science and engineering graduate students. Under Clinton's plan the number of awards would increase to 3,000 per year, with the size of each award jumping 33% to $40,000. These increases, along with a boost in the amount of money giving to each recipient's school, would increase the annual cost of the program to $500 million from $122 million, according to Clinton.

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