Some Lobbyists Look to Win in Reconciliation
As countless lobbyists greet the budget reconciliation process with a feverish effort to ward off cuts to existing programs, a small number of industries are hopeful that reconciliation will actually be a windfall for their clients.
Consider the issue of digital television, which is almost certain to be a part of the final bill.
Bill Anaya, senior director of legislative affairs for electronics and communications giant Motorola, has pushed Congress for the past several years to set a firm deadline for the transition from old-fashioned analog television to digital-only broadcast signals. Once the broadcasters convert fully to digital, a large swath of “beachfront” quality spectrum will head to a Federal Communications Commission auction.
The auction could bring in, according to Congressional estimates, $10 billion to ease the federal budget’s woes. About a third of the spectrum will be given to “first responders,” such as police and fire operations, so that they can upgrade their communications systems. Motorola’s interest is that it will have an opportunity to sell new equipment attuned to the newly freed wavelengths. In addition, Motorola makes set-top boxes that will convert the digital signal to analog for consumers who don’t want to buy a new TV and don’t subscribe to cable or satellite services.
“It is a spectacular day for police, fire and all emergency workers,” Anaya said. “Because of the budget’s situation, [a spectrum auction] is at the top of everyone’s mind as part of the budget solution.”
John Alden, spokesman for the HighTech DTV Coalition, whose members include Intel, Microsoft and several business groups, said, “we’re happy that the bill is moving forward in both houses,” though he added, “obviously there’s a lot of work left to be done.”
A 1990s measure set the transition date at Dec. 31, 2006, but with many stipulations. The House version calls for the date of Dec. 31, 2008, while the Senate’s bill puts it at April 7, 2009. The House’s DTV markup is scheduled for Wednesday.
Veronique Pluviose-Fenton, principal legislative counsel for the National League of Cities, said that even though her organization cheers the idea of a hard date, it was hoping for it to come sooner than late 2008 or early 2009. The cities she represents need the additional spectrum so that emergency officials can communicate during natural disasters, terrorist attacks and even routine 9-1-1 calls, she said.
“There is a certain level of disappointment that we’re not adhering to the 2006 date,” said Pluviose-Fenton, who has been grappling with proposals for legislative language while at home with flu symptoms.
“We have been raising this issue since the Oklahoma bombing,” she added. “It is about time.”
Although many lobbyists see reconciliation as must-pass legislation by the end of the year, Pluviose-Fenton said she worries that the entire measure could end up delayed due to Congressional haggling, thus further delaying the switchover.
But even as Pluviose-Fenton lobbies for the DTV transition, her group already has lined up against other reconciliation measures, such as cuts to local housing and health care programs.
“We are treating this the way we do any omnibus bill,” she said. “You try to get out of it what you can, and then on the next legislative vehicle you fight like hell to correct the problems.
“This is the opportunity to get a date certain, then we’re going to take it, say thank you for that date certain, and look for other legislative vehicles to correct mistakes that were made,” she added.
Advocates for other issues are tentatively having luck in the reconciliation process, as well.
Ralph Hellmann, senior vice president of government relations at the Information Technology Industry Council, said the high-tech sector has thus far scored at least two wins in the budget reconciliation package. In addition to the DTV issue, his group and its allies are nearing progress on immigration relief for H1b visas in the Senate.
“We’re very pleased that the Senate has included those two provisions that are important to the high-tech community,” Hellmann said.
Others expressing optimism about their chances in reconciliation include backers of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Roger Herrera, with the Alaska-based nonprofit Arctic Power, has long lobbied to open up ANWR to oil drilling. He said that although environmental and other groups are making a hard push to remove drilling in ANWR from any reconciliation package, he feels confident that his measure will make it.
“Both the House and Senate plans are to have the money from ANWR as part of the budget reconciliation process,” he said. “Our opponents are never going to give up and will use every parliamentary way available to them. But it’s very difficult to be confident that those attempts will succeed.”