Senate Adjourns With Satellite License Un-Renewed

Eventual bill may need to be 10-year renewal to meet pay-go requirements
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The Senate adjourned Friday (Feb. 26) without voting to
extend satellite operators' license to deliver network affiliated TV station
signals to their subscribers.

That means that, unless the Senate is called back into
session by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the license expires midnight
Feb. 28.

The Senate failed to approve a package of extensions for
various laws with Feb. 28 deadlines, including COBRA and unemployment insurance
benefits and the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act after
a single Senator took issue with the effect of extending the insurance and
unemployment benefits on the deficit.

The House had already passed the extensions by unanimous
consent, but Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) held up a similar effort to pass it
Thursday night in the Senate, according to several Hill sources.

"As it stands, said one Republican staffer on
background, "the Senate is in recess and the bill has not been
extended." The Majority leader could not be reached for comment.

Republican sources say they have had a deal for weeks with
all four relevant committees (House and Senate Commerce and Judiciary) on a
bill, with tougher conditions for DISH's reentry into the distant-signal
business, but that leadership would not separate it out from a jobs bill that
has yet to be voted on, betting that the extension would pass. Those tougher
conditions were apparently what stood in the way of the original bill pass back
in December, when a 60-day extension was passed along with the unemployment and
COBRA elements that have become the sticking points this time around.

The source also said the House had some problems with a
five-year extension meeting new pay-as-you-go budget rules but that the
Republicans and stakeholder were also OK with a 10-year extension, which would
have been enough time for the bill to score deficit-neutral.

The tougher DISH conditions include changing the $250,000
per incident penalty to a floor of $250,000 and as much as $5 million per
incident if DISH did not make a good-faith effort to reach all 210 local
markets, which was its side of the bargain to allow it to deliver distant
signals directly instead of through a third-party per a court order.

"We offered as early as this morning to call up the
10-year framework and go, and that just wasn't done," said the Republican
staffer. He said Republicans weren't thrilled with the 10-year extension given
that the framework of the bill may need tweaking given developments in the
market. The bill acknowledges that with calls for studies of how the license
should apply to fixing so-called split markets, and whether there should be a
license at all. "Waiting 10 years to revisit may not be the best idea, but
in talking to all the stakeholders, we got to the point where people said, ‘look,
if 10 years has to be the period to extend this notwithstanding other people's
parochial concerns...to held the House with the pay-go issue, let's just do it.'
 No one objected to a 10-year extension
among the stakeholder community or among congressional offices as far as I
know."

A stand-alone 30-day extension of SHVERA (now called STELA,
or the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act), could have run into
pay-go problems as well. Even that brief extension would create $2 million in
accounting charges that would have to be offset, said the source. Packaging it
with other extensions would allow the entire bill to be deficit neutral, even
if individual elements were not.

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