House E&C Approves Broadband Stimulus Clarification Bill

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In the spirit of Douglas MacArthur, the House Energy & Commerce Committee majority continued to send the message to broadband stimulus administrators: You shall return. In this case, it is talking about broadband stimulus funding.

Following a contentious markup on healthcare-related bills, the committee came together to approve without incident or discouraging word a bill to clarify that de-obligated broadband stimulus money would go back to the Treasury.

The language of the President's stimulus package had left there turn of that money to the Treasury or its recirculation back into the program, to the implementing agencies, in this case the National Telecommunications & Information Administration and Rural Utilities Service.

Republicans, led by Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), proposed changing the "may" return to a "shall" return. The bill also requires informing Congress when that money is returned.

While some Democrats called the bill unnecessary, saying that it was already understood that the money would go back to the treasury, and that was the way the programs had been operating, the Republicans wanted that to be explicit so that some future administrator did not have the discretion to change that policy.

The heads of both NTIA and RUS conceded that the language did provide that discretion, Walden pointed out Tuesday.

While there was some back and forth in the subcommittee markup of the bill, Tuesday's was all sweetness and light, with former E&C chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) hailing the bipartisan work on the bill that had cleared up Democrat concerns, including making sure it did not create difficulties in overseeing and implementing the program, providing the flexibility to keep some information confidential, and to address frivolous or erroneous complaints fairly.

Even Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) ranking member of the Communications subcommittee, who had criticized the bill in the earlier markup, associated herself with Waxman's praise given the changes to it since that vote. The bill will get more tweaking before a full House vote, Waxman indicated.

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