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McCain says selling broadcasters’ spectrum is a “cop-out”

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized a proposal by Sen. Harry Reid to sell off broadcaster spectrum as “full of smoke and mirrors” and a cop-out from having the Senate make difficult decisions.

McCain, former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he understood that having spectrum auctions would provide billions of dollars in auction revenues, but it’s an old ploy to raise money used too often on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve been in this body for a considerable period of time. I can’t tell you the number of times we have called for auctions of spectrum,” McCain said in a floor speech. “It’s an annual basis, a cop-out that prevents us from making tough decisions.”

McCain was especially critical of a part of the legislation that calls for $1 billion to assist repacked broadcasters.

“A television broadcaster got the spectrum for free,” McCain said. “Now, we’re supposed to ask the taxpayers to give them $1 billion to give back the spectrum that we own.”

McCain opposed Reid’s plan to incorporate broadcast spectrum auctions in the Senate’s debt ceiling package at all. That plan would authorize voluntary incentive auctions to deliver new revenue while paying for reallocation of the “D-Block.” Reid’s approach would generate roughly $13.1 billion in savings.

That’s double the $6.5 billion the Congressional Budget Office predicted could come from a spectrum bill sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), which cleared their panel with bipartisan support earlier this year.

As the budget crunch and Congressional reaction got more erratic by week’s end, congressional leaders seemed to be throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the proceedings. Last week, it was the broadcasters’ turn, when Reid included the sale of broadcast spectrum into a package of budget cuts and revenue-raisers.

Reid’s last-minute action left the NAB frustrated.

“NAB is deeply concerned about provisions currently in Senate Majority Leader Reid’s legislation that would threaten the future of a great American institution — free and local television,” said Dennis Wharton, vice president of communications for NAB.