Applying a new 6/12/09 deadline to the DTV transition on the fast track in the House of Representatives required that it pass by a two-thirds vote. Enough House Republicans banded together this afternoon to see that the necessary margin wasn’t there. The tally was 258-168, about six percentage points short of passage.
The next step is unclear. Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Joe Barton (R-TX) says that no matter when the transition is held, some people will be left behind, and is further worried about damaging both the television stations stuck in limbo between analog and digital, and the businesses and public safety organizations which are planning to move onto the spectrum once its abandoned by digital television stations. He has legislation introduced which would get the stalled coupon program back in gear.
The Committee Chair, Henry Waxman (D-CA) weighed in late yesterday, saying “I am very disappointed the House Republicans blocked the DTV extension today in the House. Their vote has wasted valuable time and will cause needless confusion for consumers. A clear majority in Congress supports postponing the transition and providing assistance to the millions of households that are unprepared. I am working with the Obama Administration and congressional leadership to explore all available options.”
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who successfully steered the DTV delay bill to unanimous Senate approval, had the quickest trigger finger on his PR machinery, and he was not a happy camper. “I am deeply disappointed that Republicans blocked the digital television transition (DTV) delay bill today in the House,” he said. “One thing is clear, the outgoing Bush Administration grossly mismanaged the digital television transition and consumers are confused, households are not prepared, and the coupon program for converter boxes is broken. While the Senate paved the way with a bipartisan bill to repair this unfortunate situation, our Republican counterparts in the House chose to stand in the way of a workable solution.”
RBR/TVBR observation: So what’s going to happen? We think the date will still be 6/12/09. Barton may have engineered a stall, but he still has only 168 votes – a good 50 shy of a win if every MOC casts one. Further, three solid weeks have passed since the coupon bottleneck clogged, and only three weeks are left. It’ll be less than that in the unlikely event of a win for Barton in the House, followed by the unlikely event that the Senate applies its rubber stamp, and the additional unlikely event that President Obama signs it. So what seems inevitable is that it will just take House Democrats a little longer to ratify the Senate change to June. But it’ll change.