With the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks approaching, Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., on Tuesday recruited senators from New York to help him pass legislation aimed at building a national broadband network for emergency first responders.
During his second news conference in less than a week on the issue, Rockefeller repeated his pledge to try to pass the legislation before the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. He plans to mark up his bill next week, but he made a plea for support when the bill hits the Senate floor.
“A senator objecting -- that’s what I fear more than anything,” Rockefeller said. “I don’t fear having an overwhelming majority of senators for this bill. But that’s always the thing you have to fear: Someone asks unanimous consent to bring it up, and one senator objects.”
Rockefeller was joined at the news conference by New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., both of whom sit on the Commerce Committee.
Rockefeller’s bill would reallocate a controversial chunk of spectrum known as the D-block to first responders for an interoperable network. Under current law, the Federal Communications Commission is required to auction that spectrum to commercial bidders. The bill also would authorize the FCC to conduct incentive auctions, which are aimed at persuading spectrum holders such as broadcasters to give up spectrum in exchange for some of the proceeds from the auctions. The bill directs that some of the money from the auctions would to pay to build the public safety network.
Schumer issued a reminder about the difficulties New York City's policemen and firefighters had in communicating with each other as they responded to the 9/11 attacks because their radios weren’t compatible, a problem that he said cost lives. The commission that investigated those attacks recommended that Congress fix the interoperability problems.
When asked about why the bill had yet to attract any Republican co-sponsors, Rockefeller said he has been working with Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on a compromise version. “There may be one or two issues where Hutchison differs” with him, he said. “They’re not insurmountable.”
Gillibrand, Boxer, and Klobuchar added that once the issue gets more public attention, they expect it will attract Republican support. Gillibrand pointed to legislation she succeeded in passing to provide health care for workers who searched for victims of the terrorist attacks in New York. “Certain issues when you shine the light of truth on them, they take on a life of their own,” Boxer added.
Even if the bill makes it through the Senate, it could hit face difficulties in the House. Key GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the past have supported auctioning the D-block and using the proceeds for deficit reduction.
In an interview, Hutchison declined to say what issues are holding up an agreement but said, “We are, I think, coming to some areas where we can have a bill.”
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Dan Friedman contributed. contributed to this article.
This article appears in the May 17, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.