Rep. Greg. Walden, R-Ore., unveiled legislation on Wednesday that would rein in the regulatory powers of the Federal Communications Commission, his latest offensive in a protracted battle against what he sees as "an agency run amok."
His bill would impose additional hurdles for the agency to clear before creating more regulations. For instance, the FCC would need to justify any rule-making actions by identifying market failure or consumer harms.
Walden, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce's Communications Subcommittee, said his bill was important for jobs.
“At a time when job creators are crippled with regulatory uncertainty, Congress has the obligation to ensure that federal agencies carry out the public's business transparently. The technology and communications sector is the most innovative in our country—it deserves the most innovative and open government agency,” he said.
The bill, which has companion legislation from Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., will get a subcommittee markup on Nov. 16, Walden said.
The legislation has some noncontroversial proposals, but other sections have a strong partisan bite.
Walden said the bill would bring largely “common-sense” reforms to increase fairness and transparency. For instance, it would allow three commissioners to get together outside of public meetings, something currently banned by the agency. Democrats have supported that reform in the past for the sake of efficiency.
Walden’s bill would also force the FCC to disclose the text of its proposals before a vote. “When they’re writing [the orders] in the back hall on the way down, that’s not right,” he said.
But the effort is hardly nonpartisan. It plays into the lengthy battle between FCC Democrats and House Republicans, who have made the agency one front in their effort to expose what they say is overregulation by the Obama administration. President Obama handpicked the head of the FCC, his law school buddy Julius Genachowski, and campaign promises have helped steer the agency’s priorities.
Walden’s most high-profile fight with the FCC came earlier this year when he tried to repeal so-called “net neutrality” regulations. The rules, which he saw as burdensome and unjustified, would create new expectations for the way phone and cable companies treat Internet traffic. The House passed Walden’s net neutrality repeal bill in April, but it’s unlikely to get through the Senate.
Walden has also railed against the way the FCC handled the Comcast merger with NBC Universal last year, which it approved with conditions. His bill would limit how much leeway the agency has to add such conditions. As it stands, the FCC has considerable power to attach expectations for merging companies that it sees as beneficial to the public interest.
That’s a formula for side deals, Walden said on Wednesday. “It’s an agency run amok.”