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Editorial: Hold the Hold

It’s been four months since FCC chair Julius Genachowski and Republican Robert McDowell left for the private sector. That’s 40 percent of the comission. And while acting FCC chief Mignon Clyburn has not let grass grow beneath her feet, she will not be setting long-term policy priorities for the FCC— unless Congress drags its feet on the nominees.

Republican nominee Michael O’Rielly got his day in the congressional spotlight last week. But even if the Senate Commerce Committee approves him as expected, his full-senate vote is contingent on Democratic chairman nominee Tom Wheeler being approved, which will almost certainly happen eventually but could be held up.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has suggested he could put a hold on the nomination, has a legitimate issue, but we hope he does not use his hold power to stay the FCC appointments. Cruz is concerned that the commission will use its authority to require ad sponsorship ID’s to better identify the funders of political ads that have proliferated in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and unions to directly fund electioneering TV and radio ads in the run-up to federal elections and primaries.

Cruz wants assurances a Wheeler-led FCC will not do an end-run around Congress’ failure to pass the political ad spending-related DISCLOSE Act. But Wheeler is not going to prejudge a decision not yet before him or the FCC, and he should not be expected or required to.

The senator should let this play out at the FCC. He is free to weigh in then, and should, if he feels strongly (as is clearly the case). But that should come in an open FCC docket if the commission decides to open one, and not by holding up the confirmation process.

And while we’re at it, we respectfully request that no extraneous holds be placed relating to all other issues—from health care to the debt to judicial appointments— which currently divide Congress.

The FCC has too much on its plate to delay the installation of the full complement of FCC commissioners, including a chairman who will set the course for policy changes that will more than likely help determine the future of video on broadcast, cable and online.