House E&C Approves Rules

The House Energy & Commerce Committee has approved its new rules for the 116th Congress under Democratic leadership. That came at an organizational meeting Jan. 24. The Democratic leadership also announced a hearing on how the government shutdown is affecting the various agencies under their jurisdiction, which includes the FCC.

Those are procedural rules on things like notice and cancellation of hearings, participation by members and nonmembers, introducing new members--there are eight new Democratic members and only one new Republican member--and how oversight powers will be exercised.

The rules were approved unanimously after something of a scripted kabuki dance between the new chairman, Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), with Walden asking various questions and getting pledges in response.

Those included that Pallone would give Walden 72 hours notice and consultation before issuing subpoenas as part of the committee's oversight authority. The Democrats are expected to use their oversight authority over the Trump Administration vigorously. In fact, Pallone announced at the meeting that there would be a hearing next week (Jan. 31) on the "Trump shutdown." He said it defied logic that workers would be missing another paycheck. Those include furloughed FCC staffers.

On the subpoena issue, Walden pointed out that as chairman he had only used that subpoena authority once and his Republican predecessor, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) only five times, and in those cases it was either after attempts through interviews and requests to get the information voluntarily--essentially as a last resort, Walden suggested--or because they were so called "friendly subpoenas" requested by the witnesses.

Related: Pallone Schedules Meeting to Formalize Committees, Subcommittees

Walden also said that sometimes the threat of a subpoena was all that was needed. He asked that chairman Pallone use the subpoena power "thoughtfully" to avoid abuse. Pallone said that all sounded reasonable.

Both Walden and Pallone laughed at times at the procedural dance, but Walden also said it was important to get the asks and answers on the record.

The new chairman also said he was extending the tradition, rather than rule, of giving priority to bipartisan amendments.

Another ask from Walden was that Pallone commit to including minority members in oversight briefings, interviews, depositions, and letters. Pallone said he agreed the committee worked best on a bipartisan basis, but there would likely be times when they
would "part ways." Walden acknowledged that political reality.

There were no changes to the jurisdictions of the subcommittees. As already reported, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) will chair the Communications Subcommittee and ranking member will be Bob Latta (R-Ohio).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.