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House Appropriations Drops FCC Online Political File-Blocking Amendment

The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to excise an amendment to an FCC appropriations bill that would have blocked funding of implementation of the FCC's online political file rules, which require the top 200 network affiliates to send their political files, including spot prices, to the FCC for publication on its site, with the rest of the nation's TV stations having to follow suit in two years.

The amendment, which passed the Financial Services and General Government subcommittee two weeks ago, had been introduced by Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who Wednesday offered a substitute striking her original amendment and replacing it with one that would require GAO to study the rule's impact, according to open government group OMB Watch, which had opposed the original amendment.

The FCC is also slated to vet the impact of the online posting on those first 200 stations after a year.

The compromise amendment, following conversations between members on both sides, was hailed by Democrats as the way the committee ought to work.

"This is a great step for transparency. With the rider removed, the FCC can continue implementation of the rule," said OMB Watch policy analyst Gavin Baker. "As a result, the American public will get critical information about political spending prior to this November's elections."

Free Press was happy with the turn of events."We are pleased that members of the Appropriations Committee have sided with the public and chosen transparency over secrecy, accessibility over inconvenience. The committee rightly abandoned an earlier measure that would have prevented the FCC from implementing these common-sense improvements," said senior policy counsel Corie Wright.

Even if the committee had approved the original amendment, and the Republican-controlled House passed it, the measure was unlikely to survive in the Senate.

The Office of Management and Budget still has to sign off on the information-collection requirements in the FCC rules, and is expected to do so next month to six weeks. The FCC has said it anticipates the rule kicking in in time for this election cycle, but the National Association of Broadcasters has asked OMB to reject the FCC's estimate of the information collection requirements.