Republican Spectrum Bill Clears House Subcommittee

Dems' hopes for bipartisan bill dashed

Try as they might, House Democrats couldn't get the bipartisan spectrum bill they wanted. In a 17-6 vote, a Republican bill to free up more spectrum for wireless use and public safety advanced through the House Communications & Technology Subcommittee on Thursday largely unchanged.

The GOP bill, the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum Act of 2011, did include one major concession to the Dems: the allocation of some spectrum to public safety, a key provision of similar legislation supported by Senate Democrats. 

Even as they praised that concession—which was a big shift for Republicans, who wanted to auction off all spectrum made available by broadcasters, rather than giving some away for free for public safety purposes—the subcommittee's Democrats failed to get any traction on their other amendments, including a provision that would allow for more unlicensed spectrum and a different governance model for the public safety network from the one Republicans proposed. 

Two bipartisan amendments did make it through. One, offered by Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., and Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., would protect border TV stations in any repacking that would occur when TV stations relinquish some of their spectrum for voluntary auction. The other, offered by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and John Shimkus, R-Ill., provides funding for 911 call centers.

The four-hour markup session was a long, drawn-out tug-of-war between the two parties, on both process and substance. But it was the process that really got under the Dems' skin.

Complaining that they were abandoned at the negotiating table in October, Democrats were loaded for bear leading up to the markup, which took place just two days after the GOP bill was introduced. As a counter, the Dems offered their own bill and asked for a postponement. But without the votes, there was little they could do except posture during the markup and try and cajole Republican members into siding with them.

Even the minority’s chief flamethrower, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., tempered his objections to both the process and the substance of the GOP bill.

“The process was broken down and the substance is in much need of repair… but it’s fixable,” Waxman said. "Despite our request to put off this markup, we were told we didn’t have time to do this. We could move this much faster if we did this together."

The GOP countered that after five hearings and a year of negotiations between the two parties, it was time to move the bill forward. “The JOBS Act didn’t just drop out of the sky," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the subcommittee. "I think Republicans have come a far way in coming up with a bill that works."

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