By Tom Brune
Congress won't meet New York lawmakers' goal of passing a bill to create a national broadband network for emergency responders by the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Rep. Peter King and other advocates said last week.
The House GOP has bottled up the measure in committee and the Senate has just a few days to vote on its bill when Congress returns after Labor Day, said King (R-Seaford), a bill sponsor.
"I don't see how we can" do it, he said. "We don't come back until Sept. 7 and there is no way it's going to get out of the House and pass the Senate by Sept. 11."
Though disappointed, advocates for the public safety network said they're turning Congress' possible failure to act by the deadline into a call for action. "We're not sitting back," said Sean Kirkendall, a lobbyist for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials.
Police, firefighters and other groups said they are gearing up for an all-out push, likely to begin in October, to persuade Congress to pass the bill by the end of the year. "After the 10th anniversary of 9/11 passes, you will see a significant change in tenor and messaging on this issue," Kirkendall said. The measure's advocates say the network would fix the dangerous and sometimes deadly problems first responders have communicating over incompatible airwaves and equipment.
Rep. King: Network bill won't pass by 9/11
But the new push could be complicated with the convening of a new congressional "super committee" charged with cutting the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years, King said.
In May, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced that they aimed to pass the measure by the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
The Senate still could pass its version before then, but the bill wasn't on the calendar as of last week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried to tack on the measure to the debt ceiling deal, which would have met the 9/11 goal. But the House GOP stripped it out.
The King and Rockefeller bills would give two slices of spectrum known as D Block to a public safety alliance and would auction other spectrum to pay for the network and to help pay down the deficit.
Key Republicans have expressed objection to the bills, saying the auctioning of D Block would bring in billions of dollars more to cut the deficit.
Those Republicans include Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. Both were appointed to serve on the 12-member special deficit reduction committee, and they might eye auctioning D Block to help meet its goal of more than $1 trillion in cuts.
Asked if he'd consider spectrum sales to reduce the deficit, Toomey said in a telephone call with reporters, "The topic should be on the table and let's just leave it at that."
"It's going to be a tough fight," said King, "because they feel there is more money to be obtained by not reserving D Block for first responders."