D Block in limbo as House expected to nix two-month payroll-tax deal (with related video)
Hopes that 700 MHz D Block reallocation to public safety would be part of larger payroll-tax legislation appeared to be dashed during the weekend when the Senate opted to pass a two-month bill, but the issue theoretically could be reopened if the House rejects that proposal and seeks to renegotiate a year-long measure, as many Beltway observers expect.
D Block reallocation and billions of dollars in funding for a nationwide public-safety broadband network were key components for first responders that were part of the payroll-tax bill passed by the House last week, although that legislation included spectrum-giveback and governance language that was troublesome to many first-responder groups.
Instead of approving the House bill, the Senate voted Saturday for a compromise measure that would extend the payroll-tax cut and unemployment benefits for just two months. This legislation did not include any provisions related to spectrum, including language regarding public safety and the FCC’s authority to conduct auction airwaves.
“I’m deeply disappointed that measures to create a first-responder communications network were not included in the larger year-end package,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said in a news release Saturday
“Our police officers, firefighters, and emergency personnel across America need to be able to rely on a nationwide, interoperable communications network when the unimaginable happens. Although we didn’t get this done within today’s agreement, I intend to push hard in the coming weeks to work out a suitable compromise with the House.”
This bipartisan legislation passed the Senate by an 89-10 margin and initially was expected to pass the House today. But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday on NBC’s Meet the Press that House Republicans have expressed opposition to the proposal and want Congress to negotiate a deal that includes a full-year extension of payroll-tax cut. Boehner said the two-month deal is an example of “just kicking the can down the road.”
“It’s time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences and extend this for one year,” Boehner said. “How can you have tax policy for two months?”
Complicating matters is the fact that the Senate already has adjourned for the year and was not expected to reconvene until the eve of President Barak Obama’s State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 24. However, if the House does not pass the Senate’s weekend legislative effort and senators decline to negotiate a new deal, about 160 million American will see their taxes increase and others see unemployment benefits expire beginning in January — a scenario that both parties hope to avoid, particularly as a national election cycle gets started.
If the House members today opt against supporting the two-month extension passed by the Senate, it is unclear whether public-safety-communications aspects of the spectrum language in last week’s House bill would be included in any bicameral negotiations, if they occur.
While public safety supports many key tenets of last week’s House bill — D Block reallocation, broadband funding and next-generation 911 funding — many first-responder agencies oppose language requiring the return of 700 MHz narrowband spectrum to the FCC in the future and an administrator-based governance model that is similar to the one used for 800 MHz rebanding.
Meanwhile, the political lightning rod associated with the payroll-tax debate has been the multibillion-dollar Keystone XL oil pipeline. Republicans claim the project would create 20,000 jobs, while Democrats have expressed environmental concerns about the proposed pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Under last week’s House bill, President Barack Obama would have to make a decision about the pipeline within two months. Many Democratic officials have indicated that this accelerated timetable would force Obama to nix the project, because the environmental studies would not be completed in time.
Multiple media reports indicate that House Republicans are seeking language in the payroll-tax bill that would ensure approval of the controversial pipeline project.