Reps. Barton, Stearns Offer Alternative DTV Bill

Addressed their thoughts in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Two of the most vocal critics of moving the DTV date wasted no time in offering up their alternative solution.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), not long after a Senate bill to move the DTV date failed to pass in the House, said that the DTV transition was "neither stuck nor broke," and that problems could be overcome with a "dollop of real bipartisanship."

That was possible, they said, "now that S. 328, the Senate’s DTV-delay bill, has failed to gain sufficient support to pass without bypassing the regular procedures of the House of Representatives."

The bill would have passed under regular procedures since it had a clear majority--258 for, 168 against. But it had been offered on suspension, which is a way to fast-track the bill by limiting debate and amendments. But the quid pro quo is that it requires a two-thirds majority for passage.

The Barton and Stearns solution is a bill that would free up $250 million more in funds and preclude the need for $650 million in coupon anbd DTV education funds that was put in the economic stimulus package.

As Barton pointed out in the letter, he was working on a similar bill with Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) when the Barack Obama transition team preempted that effort with a push to change the date.

Barton told Pelosi that the bill had 11 co-sponsors.

The full text of the letter, which also went to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA), is below.

January 28, 2009
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House of Representatives
H - 232, U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.

Dear Speaker Pelosi:
Now that S. 328, the Senate’s DTV-delay bill, has failed to gain sufficient support to pass without bypassing the regular procedures of the House of Representatives, all of us have work to do. The DTV transition program is neither stuck nor broke. There are problems, but they can be overcome with your help and a dollop of real bipartisanship.
A solution recommended by the Commerce Department currently exists in the form of H.R. 661. That bill or similar legislation will help television viewers without jeopardizing public safety, and it constitutes the most realistic chance for a real broadband stimulus without spending an extra $650 million.
H.R. 661 authorizes $250 million more for converter box coupons. It would clear the waiting list in just two weeks. We might even get most of the money back at the end of the program in coupons that people choose not to use. The legislation is based on the proposal the Commerce Department outlined in a Jan. 14 letter to Democratic and Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress.
It will finally give public safety officials the broadcast frequencies we promised them 10 years ago so they can save lives, and it lets wireless providers actually use the spectrum they’ve already paid $20 billion to get.
Mr. Stearns and I, along with eleven of our colleagues, are sponsors of the pending legislation, but it hardly matters whose name is on any bill that constitutes a strong, bipartisan solution to the DTV dilemma that both political parties face equally. More to the point, passing the Commerce Department’s recommended solution will require your leadership and your party’s active support. Getting the job done in time cannot be about laying blame or gaining credit, but about making the transition work.
We were working with Congressman Markey the first week of January on a bill to address the issues without throwing a monkey wrench into the program by stalling the transition. Had that work not been interrupted by the transition team’s intervention, it seems likely that a bipartisan bill could have been through the House and the Senate already. We don’t have much time left to pick up the pieces, but that’s what we need to do, and your direct involvement and support right now can make all the difference.