At press time, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, had struck a compromise with Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on a DTV bill that an aide close to the Senator said still included moving the DTV transition date to June 12.
"My understanding," said the aide, "is that Sens. Rockefeller and Hutchison have talked. They have a deal on the compromise and it's got the original proposal to move the date to June 12."
Rockefeller was trying to get the compromise passed as early as tonight (Jan. 22), though that was considered a long shot. But if so, one industry source gave the Senate bill a 70%-80% chance of superceding a House DTV bill and passing in that body as well. Democrats have a 13-seat majority in Energy & Commerce.
Rockefeller's aide said the goal is to try and get the bill finished and passed by unanimous consent either tonight--unlikely, he said, or Friday--with the help of Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Obama administration has pushed congress to move the date, and specifically to back the Rockefeller bill, though that was before the compromise, which is said to include addressing some of the concerns of first responders and industry, said the aide. That would expand the bill beyond simply changing the date, as Sen. Rockefeller first proposed in an effort to produce the easiest bill to pass in the shortest amoung of time.
It would also make it closer to the version of a DTV date delay bill introduced by House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA).
A spokesman for Senate Republicans had no comment. A spokesperson for Waxman was also unavailable at press time.
Waxman cancelled a hearing and markup on his bill Wednesday, saying he would wait to see what happened in the Senate, where Rockefellers' original bill was blocked from quick passage by an anonymous hold by a Republican member. "If we have a bill that is sane, rational and prudent and gets the job done, the House should be able to use that as a jumping-off point for their efforts. And Chairman Waxman has said as much."
But according to ranking House Energy & Commerce Committee member Joe Barton, like Hutchison a Texas Republican, his staffers and Waxman's staffers were talking about ways to fix transition problems, primarily a backlog of DTV-to-analog converter box coupon applications, without having to move the date.
While Congress has been focused on the coupon backlog, the Obama administration's initial call to move the date cited a general lack of DTV assistance funds. The new administration has even put $650 million into the economic stimulus package to help out with the transition, funding Barton has called a pot of money in search of a problem.
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