Over the objections of House Democrats, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to send to the floor a bill that would transform how the Federal Communications Commission conducts its business.
Democrats mounted a vigorous debate during today's markup ending in a 31-16 vote with only one Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah, siding with the GOP.
The bill, the FCC Process Reform Act of 2011, would require the FCC to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and identify a specific market failure before adopting a new rule; establish time limits for consideration of acquisitions; and publish the full rule before voting on it. It also prevents the FCC from imposing conditions on merger approvals that are outside of its legal authority.
“The FCC has improved its processes under chairman Genachowski; however, even this commission has overreached its statutory authority and been less than open and transparent in its rulemaking, and we need to lock in reform with legislation to ensure that good government practices continue from one administration to the next,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).
As a former broadcaster, Walden has made changing how the FCC operates a top priority of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, which he chairs.
“This is the agency that had a backlog of 4,984 petitions, 3,950 license applications and more than a million consumer complaints at the end of last year,” Walden said.
Although the bill included a provision that will allow commissioners to meet in private and a new amendment that will require the FCC to set up a searchable database for consumer complaints, it wasn't enough for Democrats to vote for the bill.
"We don't need to adopt another monstrous piece of legislation that is going to sow confusion around Washington. We should start using oversight and make [the FCC] understand," said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).
Democrats did agree with the GOP on the FCC Consolidated Reporting Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) that repeals various FCC reports required by Congress and consolidates them into one, comprehensive report. The bill passed on a voice vote.
Both FCC bills are likely to fare well on the floor of the House but face an uncertain future in the Democratic-controlled Senate.