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HouseE&C Approves Broadband Stimulus ClarificationBill

In the spirit of Douglas MacArthur, the House Energy &
Commerce Committee majority continued to send the message to broadband stimulus
administrators: You shall return. In this case, it is talking about broadband
stimulus funding.

Following a contentious markup on healthcare-related bills,
the committee came together to approve without incident or discouraging
word a bill to clarify that de-obligated broadband stimulus money would go back
to the Treasury.

The language of the President's stimulus package had left
there turn of that money to the Treasury or its recirculation back into the
program, to the implementing agencies, in this case the National
Telecommunications & Information Administration and Rural Utilities

Republicans, led by Communications Subcommittee Chairman
Greg Walden (R-Ore.), proposed changing the "may" return to a
"shall" return. The bill also requires informing Congress when that
money is returned.

While some Democrats called the bill unnecessary, saying
that it was already understood that the money would go back to the treasury,
and that was the way the programs had been operating, the Republicans wanted
that to be explicit so that some future administrator did not have the
discretion to change that policy.

The heads of both NTIA
and RUS conceded that the language did
provide that discretion, Walden pointed out Tuesday.

While there was some back and forth in the subcommittee
markup of the bill, Tuesday's was all sweetness and light, with
former E&C Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) hailing the
bipartisan work on the bill that had cleared up Democrat concerns, including
making sure it did not create difficulties in overseeing and implementing
the program, providing the flexibility to keep some information
confidential, and to address frivolous or erroneous complaints fairly.

Even Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) ranking member of the
Communications subcommittee, who had criticized the bill in the earlier markup,
associated herself with Waxman's praise given the changes to it since that
vote. The bill will get more tweaking before a full House vote, Waxman indicated.