U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minn.) said she believes the House next week will pass a bill delaying the digital-TV transition until June 12 and that it will hit the president's desk soon after.
Robert Gibbs, the presidential spokesman, said in a briefing this afternoon Obama will "sign that delay into law so that we might undergo a little bit better planning process to ensure no interruption for people with televisions." He noted that the Senate re-voted for the delay last night and that the House, which failed to pass a companion measure, is expected to re-consider the item next week.
Klobuchar, a big supporter of changing the date from Feb. 17 to June 12, was being interviewed for C-SPAN's The Communicatorsseries. Klubuchar's state has some of the highest analog-only TV viewing, including more than 20% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, she pointed out.
The Senate Commerce Committee member conceded that the early DTV transitions in Wilmington and Hawaii have gone "fairly well." But she said one of the things those transitions revealed was that people waited until the last minute to get their converter box coupons even though they were aware of the transition.
"Suddenly, [the government] is out of coupons. We had told the American people that this wasn't going to cost them a lot...This gives us until June 12 to at least make sure that those coupons and converter boxes are available to the six million people who haven't done anything about it.
Asked whether people won't just do the same thing and wait until the last minute again, she conceded that would probably happen. "I think people will, but you have to have the coupons available," she said. "This is more than just about just watching TV for fun," she said, first referencing Wheel of Fortune then changing it to C-SPAN in a shout-out to her hosts.
It is also about getting emergency information for weather emergencies like tornados and ice storms, she said. "It's not 'just television.' "
For example, Klobuchar said that she and her husband were glued to the TV set this week during the ice strom in Virginia to find out whether their daughter's school was going to be closed the next day. "I think it's pretty unfair just to sit above and say, 'well, my TV works because I have cable but 20% of you may be in trouble.' "
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) proposed a bill that would free up funding immediately for the coupons without changing the date, as contrasted with the date-changing bill, which has to wait for the economic stimulus package and its $650 million in funding to start the coupons flowing. Why wouldn't that suffice, Klobuchar was asked?
"There are 3 million people on the waiting list and if they really think in these last two weeks that are left that we are going to be able to take care of all those people on the waiting list, I don't think it is worth inconveniencing all those people," she said. "We know there are still going to be problems. It's not going to be perfect, but it will give this new aminisration some time to get this done right.
The Obama transition team three weeks ago called on Congress to move the date.