First responder advocate John Feal has been recruited to push for the Rockefeller incentive auction/first responder bill, which has passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee and awaits a floor vote. Since the auction would also raise money to pay down the debt, the bill could be rolled into a budget package as well.
At a press conference on the Hill pushing for passage by the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Feal said he, with the help of first responders suffering from related illnesses who walk the halls of Congress with him, would guarantee passage of the bill by that date. He said he had already had productive conversations with Hill Republicans, many of whom favor auctioning spectrum for a public safety network rather than allocating it as the Senate bill backed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
In a thick New York accent, Feal, a demolition supervisor from Long Island who helped in the 9/11 rescue/recovery effort, challenged anyone who did not believe he could deliver on his promise to leave the room. No one appeared to take him up on the offer. Feal turned his own battle with receiving health care for 9/11 related illness to helping others in the same position.
Among those in the room were Rockefeller; New York Sens. Chuck Schumer--who had enlisted Feal to the cause--and Kirsten Gillebrand, and first responders backing the bill, including one of the police dispatchers on 9/11. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who also has a bill that would allocate spectrum, was scheduled to talk but was tied up with floor votes.
Rockefeller pointed out that there were a number of bills, but that his was the one that "intrigues" the White House, which has backed allocation, and the FCC (which has backed auction but is open to whatever can fund a responder network). He said his is the version that has to emerge because "it does things right."
Right for Rockefeller means insuring that the 2 million-plus first responders have communications devices at least as good as the next 16-year-old with a smart phone, which is not currently the case, and was the public policy "disaster" from which the legislation springs.
"This is not about politics, but about men and women who walk into danger to save lives and property. We have to come through," he said.
Rockefeller reiterated that those, which include broadcasters, being asked to give up spectrum would do so voluntarily and would be compensated for what he said was doing their "civic duty."
The dispatcher spoke about his frustration on 9/11 as he received calls for help he could not answer because communications were hit and miss at best. He said he still has nightmares and that the opportunity to allocate the D block and pass the bill should not be lost.