The House Wednesday failed to follow the Senate's lead and pass a DTV date-change bill, putting the move of the DTV transition date in doubt after all the momentum seemed to be moving toward the four-month delay to June 12.
It was also something of a defeat for the Obama administration, which had pushed Congress to move the date, citing the problems in distributing DTV-to-analog converter box coupons and a lack of funding for DTV education. Republicans pushed back hard, saying it was a solution in search of a problem.
The vote was 258 to 168 in favor of changing the date, but under House expedited rules, a 2/3 majority was required for approval.
A spokesperson for Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) had no immediate comment on what the next move will be, but ranking Republican Joe Barton (R-TX) has a bill that would pump more money into the coupon box program without moving the date.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), who pushed the Senate bill and struck the compromise that assured its passage, sounded as though he were conceding the date would now not be changing.
“I am deeply disappointed that Republicans blocked the digital television transition (DTV) delay bill today in the House," he said in a statement. "Instead of delaying the transition to ensure that the most vulnerable among us have the ability to prepare for the transition, they have made certain that far too many consumers across the country will wake up on February the 18th and find that their television sets have gone dark and access to news, information, and vital emergency alerts will be unavailable. It did not have to be this way - this situation was unnecessary and avoidable.”
The Senate had passed a compromise bill Monday by unanimous consent, and Waxman had cancelled a markup on his DTV date change bill to get behind the Senate version.
But while no Republican senator opposed the bill, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, actively supported the compromise bill, the House was an entirely different story.
The House had debated the bill Tuesday night, with a parade of Republicans in opposition and only House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher holding down the fort for the bill's proponents.
The Energy & Commerce Committee's ranking member, Joe Barton, was dead set against moving the date, calling it a potential disaster and saying the $650 million being set aside for reissued coupons for millions of people was a pot of money in search of a problem.
It didn't help that Republican leadership put out a policy statement Tuesday saying "House Republicans oppose any further delay in the deadline."
The momentum had appeared to be clearly in favor of the bill's passage.
Certainly the industry seemed to think the die had been cast. The National Association of Broadcasters, the major networks, wireless companies waiting for reclaimed analog TV spectrum, and the principal ad agency and advertiser lobby groups had gotten behind the change, at least publicly. Barton said many in the media still, privately, were arguing against the move.
After debate on the bill Tuesday night, one Washington TV station was already warning viewers on its Tuesday night newscast that the DTV transition it had been telling them was coming Feb. 17 might be delayed by four months.
House leadership had scheduled a Wednesday vote on the bill on suspension, which is the House's version of an expedited vote with limited debate, no amendments, and a 2/3 majority required for approval. The idea was to get the bill passed as fast as possible given that the DTV date is only three weeks away.
Missouri Republican Rep. Roy Blunt said his vote against the DTV
bill was primarily about public safety. "Every day that goes by without
this transition is another day that our firefighters, policemen and
EMTs cannot effectively communicate," he said.
Blunt said he
supported the bill, proposed by Rep. Joe Barton (D-TX), to correct the
DTV converter box coupon accounting problem, saying that it would clear
up the current backlog.
He specifically cited the Fraternal Order of Police objection to moving the date.