Democrats on the House Communications Subcommittee are frustrated with Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), saying he’s not “wielding the power of his gavel,” noted The Hill story. While turf wars have long been part of Congress, some worry that Walden is engaged in turf surrender by allowing the House Judiciary Committee to take the lead on technology and telecom issues, including two major merger proposals.
“If you don’t uphold and optimize the jurisdictions that are there, they will atrophy,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on Walden’s Commerce subcommittee on communications.
Despite pressure from committee Democrats, Walden has said he has no plans to hold hearings on the proposed $45 billion deal to combine Comcast and Time Warner Cable and the proposed $49 billion deal to merge AT&T and DirecTV.
Walden said he wants to focus on legislation in front of the committee and is, on the mergers, deferring for now to DOJ and FCC, which are reviewing them.
“Mergers and acquisitions must be approved by the expert agencies for a reason—they are uniquely qualified to review the nuances of each individual merger application and what effect that may have on competition in the marketplace,” he said in a statement to The Hill.
But Walden said his subcommittee is “certainly keeping an eye on the process by which these mergers are reviewed and we won’t stand for the agencies to abuse the merger process as a way to achieve industry-wide rulemaking without due process.”
While there are no hearings currently planned, “we won’t rule out a closer look if things begin to run amuck,” he said.
The House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), has shown more of an appetite for engaging on the mergers in their early stages. The Commerce subcommittee on communications also has a hearing planned for next week on net neutrality.
In a statement announcing the hearing, Goodlatte defended his jurisdiction over the issue: “The committee has a long and robust record regarding net neutrality issues, including four hearings and the consideration of multiple pieces of legislation over the past decade.”
But Democrats on the Commerce Committee say the workload is far too light.
Earlier this month, Eshoo, Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote a letter pushing Walden to hold hearings on the mergers.
“The Energy and Commerce Committee has always had clear jurisdiction in these areas,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) said. “I would hope that all of my colleagues on the committee would take a lesson from [former Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI)] and make sure that we are going to protect the jurisdiction for conversation purposes and policy purposes.”
Matsui said she is “really disappointed” at Walden’s decision not to hold hearings on the mergers, citing the size of the companies merging and the potential impact on consumers: “These are the biggest telecommunication mergers in quite a long time, and it really kind of determines what the future is going to look like,” she said.
Matsui also expressed broader concerns about losing jurisdictional turf as the House Judiciary Committee moves ahead with its hearings. “I feel very strongly about ceding jurisdiction over this,” she said.
Eshoo said Walden should hold hearings on the telecom mergers to simply inform members about the proposed business deals. “We should know what it’s about, at least have an understanding about it,” she said. “Then people can go off and make an informed decision” about whether to support the merger.
Noted Francisco Montero, Managing Partner, Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, P.L.C.: “I don’t know whether this has anything to do with Congressman Walden or the leadership at the Judiciary Committee, but as one collague of mine noted, Congressman Walden seems more focused on making sure that the FCC doesn’t overstep its statutory mandate and infringe upon congress’ prerogatives than reviewing mergers. It does seem as if much of the action, as of late, has been in Judiciary. I was at a broadcasters conference last week and a seasoned industry lobbyist mentioned that lately he has been spending more time with the Judiciary Committee than with Commerce. If you consider also the very high profile hearings on music licensing held earlier this month by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Judiciary appears to be where the action is.”