Super Committee fails; public safety considers other D Block avenues
Yesterday’s failure by the congressional Super Committee to reach agreement on a proposal that would trim the national deficit means public-safety officials will have to pursue other legislative avenues in an attempt to get the D Block reallocated to first responders and secure billions of dollars in funding for a nationwide LTE network.
“Obviously, we’re extremely disappointed that the Super Committee didn’t come up with any recommendations at all, including ours,” said Richard Mirgon, former president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials. “But, by no means, do we believe we’re dead in the water. There are clearly other opportunities in the next month.”
Under a law passed in August, the 12-member Super Committee was supposed to make a proposal to Congress by tomorrow that would reduce the national deficit by $1.2 trillion during the next 10 years. In addition, the proposal was supposed to be prepared in time for a 48-hour review, so a deal needed to be reached yesterday to meet the timeline.
That did not happen. Democrats proposed revenue-generation measures that Republicans argued were tax increases — something many lawmakers in the party had pledged to oppose, according to numerous media reports.
“We have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee's deadline,” according to joint statement from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the Super Committee co-chairs.
During the past three months, most legislative initiatives on Capitol Hill have been stalled, as lawmakers focused their attention on the Super Committee. One of those initiatives was a push to get Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block — a 10 MHz swath of spectrum slated for commercial auction, under current law — for public-safety use and to appropriate $7 billion to $12 billion in funding for the deployment of a nationwide LTE network.
Public-safety representatives had hoped that the Super Committee would include such language in its proposal this week, but that possibility was dashed with yesterday’s announcement that the committee would not introduce any legislation.
Mirgon said other possibilities exist, including the opportunity for the D Block language to be included in an omnibus budget bill that could be approved before the end of the year, as well as being part of other bills that could be considered by Congress.
Of course, there are several standalone bills that have been proposed, most notably S.911, which the Senate Commerce Committee passed overwhelmingly during the summer. Meanwhile, many are waiting on Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) — chairman of the relevant House subcommittee that would consider D Block reallocation — to introduce legislation on the matter by the end of year.
Walden has been outspoken in his belief that the D Block should be auctioned to commercial operators in the past, but many public-safety representatives believe Walden introducing legislation — even if it is not what first responders advocate — is an important step in the process.
“We have no expectations at all,” Mirgon said about a potential Walden bill. “I just know that we definitely would like something out on the table that we can talk about publicly in a reasonable fashion, so that we can help define how we move forward.”
With the 2012 elections less than a year away, there is some concern that partisan politics could become an even greater obstacle than it has been to date. Mirgon acknowledged the potential problem but noted that the D Block and LTE funding is an issue that has bipartisan support, so its passage could help bolster the image of Capitol Hill.
“We see this as a win for those members of Congress — it’s about protecting America, it’s following the recommendation of the 911 Commission,” he said. “It just amazes me that we haven’t been able to move this forward, because not only does public safety win and the American public wins, but Congress wins.”