Congressional leaders have named two key players in the debate over spectrum legislation to a special congressional committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit savings, raising the possibility that spectrum-related measures could be included in that package.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Tuesday chose Senate Commerce Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., as one of his three picks to sit on the committee along with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Max Baucus, D-Mont, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Meanwhile, on the House side, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced his picks on Wednesday, choosing Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., along with Reps. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,also announced on Wednesday his choices for the deficit committee, tapping Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who sits on the Commerce Committee, along with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved spectrum legislation in June aimed at freeing up more spectrum for mobile broadband and building a national broadband network for public safety officials. The bill also would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to conduct spectrum auctions that could raise as much as $24.5 billion with at least $6.5 billion of that slated to go toward for deficit reduction under the measure, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Kerry supported that legislation, authored by Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., when it moved through the committee in June while Toomey opposed it.
In the House, Upton and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee, also have crafted a draft spectrum bill that also aims to generate revenues form spectrum auctions for deficit reduction.
The investment research firm Stifel Nicolaus said in a research note Wednesday that the presence of Kerry and Upton on the super committee increases prospects that spectrum legislation may be part of the proposals included in the deficit reduction package.
"We believe the presence of Rep. Upton and Sen. Kerry on the 12-member bipartisan, bicameral Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reductions helps ensure that spectrum proposals will be in the mix for consideration as it attempts to work out an agreement to reduce deficits by a cumulative $1.5 trillion over the next decade," the firm said.
Stifel Nicolaus added, however, that Energy and Commerce Republicans and Senate Commerce leaders differ on some key policy proposals in the spectrum legislation, most notably whether to give a chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety officials for their broadband network or whether to stick with current law and auction those airwaves to commercial bidders. The Senate Commerce bill would reallocate the D-block to public safety, which CBO has said would cost $2.75 billion. The Energy and Commerce GOP draft bill would maintain current law.
Regardless of whether spectrum legislation is part of the deficit package, the firm and others say they still believe Congress is likely to move a spectrum bill in this session.