Burr: Tech changes challenge lawmakers


Marissa Gallop, 15, a tenth-grader at the Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, demonstrates for U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., one of the robots she and her classmates work with in their Robotics 1 class at the STEM charter school in Elizabeth City, Wednesday. Burr visited NEAAAT as part of his swing through the region this week.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, October 12, 2017

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., says technological innovations are reshaping Americans' lives at an ever-accelerating pace, challenging a gridlocked Washington, D.C. to keep up.

“The decade of disruption is going to impact every life in this room,” Burr told Elizabeth City Rotarians on Wednesday.

The Elizabeth City Rotary Club is one of several groups the senator is meeting with as he makes a swing through northeastern North Carolina this week. Burr is also expected to speak to a Rotary group in Edenton today.

In his speech on Wednesday, Burr focused on the need for policymakers to support innovation and the capital that fuels it. An example of that support, he said, is the tax reform proposal congressional Republicans are now pursuing.

Burr said rapidly evolving technology is poised to reshape American society. For example, automakers are working to make autonomous vehicles common, drawing congressional action to regulate but not stifle them, he said.

“We rushed back to Washington two months ago to pass legislation so that, next year, you could be driving down U.S. 17 and pass by a car that has no driver — and that's legal,” he said.

There are a cascade of other changes that come with self-driving cars, Burr added. People will be able to work during their commutes, reducing lost productivity, he said. However, he added, the economy will also have to adapt to more young people relying on ride services rather than buying their own vehicles. Widely available self-driving cars would also mean fewer young people seeking driver’s licenses, he noted.

Burr also noted some automakers are aggressively pursuing electric and battery-powered vehicles, rather than combustion engines, disrupting the fuel industry and fuel regulations.

Burr also noted that smartphones are constantly growing in their technology. He noted he recently saw software that, in a few years' time, could allow mobile devices to perform basic medical tests, allowing people to diagnose themselves for some diseases.

“It will take the last 18 months of debate about health care policy, which was driven off geographical location of an individual, their proximity to a doctor, and absolutely blow it to pieces,” Burr said.

Burr also explained he wants America to be the “800-pound gorilla in the global marketplace” for innovative technologies, but that requires getting the right policies in place. The U.S. needs to help free up private investment to support innovation, he said.

Burr said Republicans are pursuing corporate tax reform as a means to that end. Democrats opposed to the GOP proposals have called them windfalls for wealthy Americans.

While not addressing those criticisms, Burr noted that Republicans are grappling with the issue of “pass-through income.” Changing how pass-through income is taxed could help wealthy Americans reduce their tax burden by reclassifying personal income as business income.

Acknowledging the difficulty of reforming corporate taxes, Burr said Republicans will likely face a deadline to get a bill passed and signed by President Donald Trump.

“If we don't do it by the end of the year we'll never do it,” he said.

Burr also discussed some issues making national headlines, including the GOP's unsuccessful attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act; the ongoing Senate investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election; and the recent war of words between President Trump and Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.