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House Dems Slam Proposed Cut-off Date, Subsidy

No sooner had the Senate Commerce Committee passed a measure to reset the hard date to complete a total analog shutdown to April 7, 2009, as expected, than the staff of the House Commerce Committee began circulating a draft of its chamber's bill with a date that comes a few months earlier: Dec. 31, 2008.

Normally, that's hardly a problem that cannot be easily remedied, but there do appear to be some serious problems with the House measure, according to Democrats on the House committee.

While the House bill was scheduled for mark-up as we went to press (Oct. 26), key committee Dems like Ed Markey (Mass.) and Fred Upton (Mich.) reportedly were already criticizing the House measure this week--mostly on what they think is a miserly federal subsidy set aside for analog-to-digital converter STBs for mostly low-income homes. (The Senate version currently covers all homes with analog sets, regardless of income). The House version stipulates a total subsidy of $830 million. Markey such an amount would be tantamount to a tax on the poor to help the rich.

The proposed House cut-off date, too, raised the feathers of Markey and Upton, charging that cutting off all analog services effective Jan. 1, 2009, would mean that a lot of poor families would literally be cut off in the middle of bowl football games on New Year's Day. Given the political sensitivity of any subsidy plan, and the overall mood on Capitol Hill of many Republicans these days after Hurricane Katrina to not further anger voters, some tweaking of the House language is likely to occur before it passes out of committee.

On the Senate side, an expected committee amendment from by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would drastically move the date up two years to April 7, 2007, was soundly defeated.