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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 3309, Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WEBSTER. Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of this rule and the underlying bill. House Resolution 595 provides for a structured rule for consideration of H.R. 3309, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2012.

The rule makes 10 of the 11 amendments submitted to the committee in order. Of these, eight are Democrat-sponsored amendments and two are Republican-sponsored amendments.

As noted by the subcommittee ranking member, Ms. Eshoo, during the Rules Committee meeting on this last night, H.R. 3309 has come to the floor under regular order. The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held an oversight hearing and subsequently a legislative hearing on Federal Communications Commission process reform.

The subcommittee then circulated a discussion draft before holding an open markup and favorably reporting the bill to the full committee on November 16, 2011. On March 6, 2012, the full committee ordered the bill favorably reported to the House.

In 2010, the communications and technology industry invested $66 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure, $3 billion more than in 2009. New products and services are innovated by this sector on an almost daily basis. With the innovation come high-quality jobs and marked improvements for every American's quality of life.

As a result, all efforts should be made to avoid stalling this important economic engine. The FCC should strive to be the most open and transparent agency in the Federal Government, and any intervention into the marketplace should be the result of rigorous analysis demonstrating the need for government regulation.

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act would change the process the FCC must follow in issuing regulations and limit the agency's ability to set conditions on transactions relating to corporate mergers and acquisitions.

The legislation would require the FCC to be more transparent and methodical in determining whether to intervene in the communications marketplace in dealing with customers and regulated parties, and in reviewing transactions.

Customers, small businesses, and outside-the-beltway stakeholders, in particular, do not have the regulatory lawyers needed for rush review of proceedings. The only way to get their input is to give them time to provide feedback on well-delineated proposals.

Before it starts intervening, the FCC should make sure it has a full understanding of the state of competition and current technologies. By requiring the FCC to be more transparent, to find a market failure before proposing regulations, and to conduct cost-benefit analyses before adopting rules, H.R. 3309 helps promote jobs, investment, and innovation in one of the few sectors still firing on all cylinders in this economy.

In particular, the bill prohibits the FCC from coercing parties to accept concessions, such as network neutrality obligations, as a condition of approving their mergers. Such conditions are typically unrelated to the specifics of the transaction and involve requirements the FCC otherwise lacks the policy justification or legal authority to impose. They also chill transactions that might otherwise advance the economy, and impose unnecessary costs on businesses.

The bill requires the FCC to survey the marketplace through a notice of inquiry before proposing new rules that would increase costs for customers and businesses; to establish the specific text of proposed rules before their consideration so the public and industry know what is being considered and have adequate information to provide input, much as House leadership has adopted in the layover requirement for the bills that we now hear on the floor; to identify a market failure or customer harm and conduct a cost-effective analysis before adopting economically significant rules that cost more than $100 million; to set the shot clock and schedules for issuing decisions and to report to Congress on how well it is abiding by them so the public and industry know when issues will be resolved; and to create performance measures to evaluate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of a program that costs more than $100 million.

These proposed process reforms are not radical, nor are they an attempt to cripple the FCC, as some opponents of the legislation have claimed. Instead, this legislation seeks to pull back the curtain on bureaucratic regulation of a sector of our economy that has provided high-tech innovation and investment, and the high-quality jobs that come with it, despite the economic downturn.

So, once again, Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the rule and the underlying legislation. I encourage my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on the rule and ``yes'' on the underlying bill.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. WEBSTER. I yield myself the balance of my time, and will get back to the issue at hand.

This is not necessarily a highway bill, but it does talk about a highway, one which is much faster than the ones we drive on. It is hard to imagine a world without a high-speed wireless Internet service. It is hard to imagine staffers walking down the hallways without some sort of wireless devices that they're communicating with others on, and usually their hands are glued to them.

Communications and technology innovations over the past several years have made us a more connected world. In some instances, the new global connectedness has brought us even closer together, allowing us to share in similarities and differences between our peers in distant cultures. It has given us a chance to marvel at the world's best athletes on the grandest stages, and in some cases it has exposed the atrocities of war, intolerance, and disregard for human life. We want our innovations to continue and our inventors to keep inventing. In the communications and technology fields they have, and they continue to amaze us with new breakthroughs every day.

This bill simply pulls back the curtain on the FCC, the agency charged with regulating the communications sector. It asks them to institute commonsense reforms to better keep the public informed on their actions. It requires the Commission to rigorously examine the marketplace before intervening; to give increased time for public input and comment; and to increase transparency while approving new rules and amendments. These process reforms are simply good government, and they should be embraced in a nonpartisan fashion.
I ask my colleagues to join me today in voting in favor of this rule and the underlying bill.

The material previously referred to by Mr. Hastings of Florida is as follows:

An Amendment to H. Res. 595 Offered By Mr. Hastings of Florida

At the end of the resolution, add the following new sections:

Sec. 3. Immediately upon adoption of this resolution the Speaker shall, pursuant to clause 2(b) of rule XVIII, declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union for consideration of a bill consisting of the text of the bill (H.R. 14) to reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes. The first reading of the bill shall be dispensed with. All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived. General debate shall be confined to the bill and shall not exceed one hour equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. After general debate the bill shall be considered for amendment under the five-minute rule. All points of order against provisions in the bill are waived. At the conclusion of consideration of the bill for amendment the Committee shall rise and report the bill to the House with such amendments as may have been adopted. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill and amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except one motion to recommit with or without instructions. If the Committee of the Whole rises and reports that it has come to no resolution on the bill, then on the next legislative day the House shall, immediately after the third daily order of business under clause 1 of rule XIV, resolve into the Committee of the Whole for further consideration of the bill.

Sec. 4. Clause 1(c) of rule XIX shall not apply to the consideration of the bill specified in section 3 of this resolution.

(The information contained herein was provided by the Republican Minority on multiple occasions throughout the 110th and 111th Congresses.)

The Vote on the Previous Question: What It Really Means

This vote, the vote on whether to order the previous question on a special rule, is not merely a procedural vote. A vote against ordering the previous question is a vote against the Republican majority agenda and a vote to allow the opposition, at least for the moment, to offer an alternative plan. It is a vote about what the House should be debating.

Mr. Clarence Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives (VI, 308 311), describes the vote on the previous question on the rule as ``a motion to direct or control the consideration of the subject before the House being made by the Member in charge.'' To defeat the previous question is to give the opposition a chance to decide the subject before the House. Cannon cites the Speaker's ruling of January 13, 1920, to the effect that ``the refusal of the House to sustain the demand for the previous question passes the control of the resolution to the opposition'' in order to offer an amendment. On March 15, 1909, a member of the majority party offered a rule resolution. The House defeated the previous question and a member of the opposition rose to a parliamentary inquiry, asking who was entitled to recognition. Speaker Joseph G. Cannon (R Illinois) said: ``The previous question having been refused, the gentleman from New York, Mr. Fitzgerald, who had asked the gentleman to yield to him for an amendment, is entitled to the first recognition.''

Because the vote today may look bad for the Republican majority they will say ``the vote on the previous question is simply a vote on whether to proceed to an immediate vote on adopting the resolution ..... [and] has no substantive legislative or policy implications whatsoever.'' But that is not what they have always said. Listen to the Republican Leadership Manual on the Legislative Process in the United States House of Representatives, (6th edition, page 135). Here's how the Republicans describe the previous question vote in their own manual: ``Although it is generally not possible to amend the rule because the majority Member controlling the time will not yield for the purpose of offering an amendment, the same result may be achieved by voting down the previous question on the rule ..... When the motion for the previous question is defeated, control of the time passes to the Member who led the opposition to ordering the previous question. That Member, because he then controls the time, may offer an amendment to the rule, or yield for the purpose of amendment.''

In Deschler's Procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives, the subchapter titled ``Amending Special Rules'' states: ``a refusal to order the previous question on such a rule [a special rule reported from the Committee on Rules] opens the resolution to amendment and further debate.'' (Chapter 21, section 21.2) Section 21.3 continues: ``Upon rejection of the motion for the previous question on a resolution reported from the Committee on Rules, control shifts to the Member leading the opposition to the previous question, who may offer a proper amendment or motion and who controls the time for debate thereon.''

Clearly, the vote on the previous question on a rule does have substantive policy implications. It is one of the only available tools for those who oppose the Republican majority's agenda and allows those with alternative views the opportunity to offer an alternative plan.


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