Democratic senators may be able to make use of a pending debt-limit package as a vehicle to get through a long-awaited bill to create a nationwide communications network for police and firefighters–a prospect that advocacy groups embraced wholeheartedly on Wednesday.
Some Republicans want to use the pending sale of television spectrum as a source of money for the debt package, and Democrats suggested that they could use such a deal to get through broader legislation.
“We certainly would support that and are looking at it,” said Bethany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “But if it doesn’t happen there, there are other ways of getting it through.”
The Public Safety Alliance applauded the idea. “When a train comes along, you get on the first train that comes along,” Sean Kirkendall, spokesman for the group, said in a phone interview.
Gillibrand, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., held a news conference on Wednesday to predict that their bill could raise billions of dollars for deficit reduction.
The legislation authored by Rockefeller and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, passed the committee almost unanimously last month. It would authorize auctions of TV spectrum to raise money for the public-safety communications network. Leftover funds would go to the Treasury. The Congressional Budget Office expects the bill to bring in $6.5 billion for deficit reduction; the committee's estimates were as high as $10 billion.
“This is pure gold,” Rockefeller said at Wednesday’s briefing. “There are several bills out there, but I think this is the bill that will drive the discussion; and it’s the bill which intrigues the White House and the Federal Communications Commission; and it’s the bill which has to emerge.”
Attaching the spectrum bill to a fast-moving debt package would help the Senate Commerce members achieve a self-imposed goal: passing their bill before the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Building the network is a long-overdue recommendation of the 9/11 commission.
Industry is expecting some kind of spectrum proposal, with Rockefeller’s as a leading possibility, to make its way into a debt-limit package because airwave auctions could bring in billions of dollars. The speculation gained ground this week after the executive summary from the “Gang of Six” senators directed the Commerce committees to find $11 billion to pay down the deficit.
The White House backed a plan similar to Rockefeller’s earlier this year, which analysts say give Rockefeller’s bill a greater hope of finding a home in a debt package.
One issue that may make it tough for both committees to approve spectrum language as part of a debt deal: House Energy and Commerce Republicans do not support Rockefeller’s bill.
They have also drafted a bill to build a public-safety network, but it does not furnish public agencies with a desirable chunk of extra spectrum known as the “D-block,” which the Republicans see as an expensive giveaway.
Analysts say it’s unclear whether the House GOP proposals or Rockefeller’s bill is more likely to make its way into a debt agreement.
“If budget drivers are moving this along, then [choosing not to give away the D-block] would be more consistent with this theme,” said Paul Glenchur, an analyst at the Potomac Research Group. “It’s not clear how this may be resolved.”