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Congress

House-Senate Spectrum Talks Stall

December 14, 2011

House and Senate talks meant to resolve sticking points over spectrum legislation appear to have stalled for now.

Staffers from the House and Senate Commerce committees had been in talks to try to resolve some of the differences between legislation approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in June and GOP draft legislation approved by the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee earlier this month.

The draft Energy and Commerce measure was added to the payroll tax package passed by the House Tuesday. Senate Democratic leaders have said the payroll tax package is unlikely to pass the Senate for reasons unrelated to the spectrum bill and President Obama has vowed to veto it if it passes Congress in its current form.

"I'm disappointed that the House has unilaterally stopped negotiating with us on spectrum, but I'm not giving up," Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a statement late Wednesday. "It's my hope that we can include a compromise in the final year-end package. Although I don't care to negotiate this publicly, we remain open to any good idea. "

Both the House and Senate bills aim to free up more spectrum for wireless broadband and help build a national broadband network for public safety.

Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., told reporters earlier Wednesday that discussions with the Senate weren't making enough progress to continue.

"We had a bipartisan vote on the House floor. It's up to the Senate to try to do something here," Walden said. "Why would we negotiate against ourselves?"

Walden said the main problem in talks with his Senate counterparts was the governance structure for the public safety network. He said he and other Republicans on the committee have already given in on a key issue by lifting their opposition to giving a swath of spectrum known as the D-block to public safety for their network.

"We haven't seen much give, and I didn't feel there was any reason to continue those discussions," Walden said. "And you know if it's all going to break down over their governance model or the highway, then maybe public safety has to come out" of the spectrum measure.

But Rockefeller said public safety is his top priority in the spectrum legislation and he would not compromise on the need to build a national network to improve emergency communications. "Frankly, the rest of the spectrum debate is secondary to the needs of our firefighters, cops, and emergency workers," he said.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., the ranking member on Walden's subcommittee, told Tech Daily Dose Wednesday afternoon that she would support passing Rockefeller's bill in the House. Eshoo and other Energy and Commerce Democrats opposed Walden's bill during the subcommittee markup because of concerns with the public safety governance language and other provisions.

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