Public safety facing long odds for D Block approval this year
Public safety’s hopes to convince Congress to reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum and provide billions of dollars of funding for a nationwide LTE network before the end of the year may not officially be dead, but they certainly appear to need some sort of life support at the moment.
Realistically, the chances of 2011 passage of these first-responder-communications goals expired when the Senate approved a two-month compromise version of a payroll-tax cut extension measure that stripped out all language related to spectrum. The Senate has left town and supposedly won’t be back until the eve of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Jan. 24, when it expected to have a month to resolve bipartisan differences in a bill to make the payroll-tax cut effective for an entire year.
But these plans were turned upside down when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Senate bill would not be approved by the House — a prediction that became reality today. Boehner called on the Senate to join the House in a conference to iron out differences and pass a measure that would ensure that Americans don’t receive a tax increase in two weeks and that unemployment benefits aren’t prematurely cut off for millions.
Democrats — and even some Senate Republicans — are crying foul, claiming that Boehner changed his mind after agreeing to the Senate compromise bill. Of course, Boehner says he did no such thing and claims the Senate should agree to a conference, just as it would for any other bill where the House and Senate disagree.
House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says the Senate will not return to Capitol Hill for a conference, but we’ve seen so many 180-degree changes in position in recent weeks that it’s hard to judge anyone’s commitment level. Now, we have to wait to see who will blink first — the House or the Senate.
If it is the House, the expected action is that the chamber would approve the Senate’s two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut. If the Senate caves and participates in a conference to strike a year-long deal, things get very interesting, because spectrum language — including the key public-safety-communications components — likely would have to be on the table, because it would provide much-needed revenue to help pay for the legislation.
Admittedly, the latter scenario seems rather unlikely at the moment, but weirder things have happened on Capitol Hill. If it doesn’t, public safety likely will have to continue to educate lawmakers about its broadband needs and make another concerted push in about two months, when election campaign efforts will be in full swing.
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