WASHINGTON-Spectrum politics took center stage last week in Congress as the golden airwaves surfaced in a new, scaled-back GOP balanced budget plan, a gas tax repeal-minimum wage deal mulled by two presidential contenders, a 888 toll-free number defense and a grand plan to overhaul regulation of the ether.
The Republican budget plan, which relies on $19.2 billion from spectrum auctions to help erase the federal deficit over the next six years and supposedly reflects the moderate approach of Senate Majority Leader and likely GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole (R-Kan.), won lukewarm praise from President Clinton.
“I think it is movement in the right direction,” said Clinton, who stole the budget issue from the GOP-led Congress by painting Republican cost-cutting initiatives as extreme and harmful to social programs, education and the environment.
“What we ought to do is to resume our negotiations and reach an agreement, instead of having a replay of the unilateral take-it-or-leave-it deal which was done in 1995,” Clinton said.
But once Republicans and the White House resume balanced budget talks, which broke down earlier this year, the comity may well give way to the kind of rancor so familiar to the two sides.
The House wants to abolish the Commerce Department, which includes the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Clinton said previously he’d veto any bill that eliminates the department. The Senate bill would retain Commerce.
Spectrum auctions are also behind a presidential election-year deal that has Dole seeking to repeal the 4.3-cent gasoline tax increase passed 2 1/2 years ago and Clinton willing to go along with that in exchange for Dole’s support for a rise in the minimum wage.
The gas tax repeal would be offset in part by auctioning 25 megahertz of spectrum for an anticipated $2.5 billion.
Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Frisa (R-N.Y.), an influential freshman member of the House telecommunications subcommittee, and others offered a resolution Friday to ban any auction of 888 toll-free telephone numbers.
Clinton proposed to sell the numbers in his fiscal 1997 budget, estimating a take of $700 million over three years.
“Allowing the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to sell recognizable numbers, such as 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-800-COLLECT and others will cause increased consumer confusion and consumer fraud,” said Frisa, Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) in a “Dear Colleague” letter.
“The FCC does not own these numbers, and by its own admission, does not even have authority to auction toll-free numbers.”
But the agency will, under a sweeping spectrum reform bill drafted and unveiled by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.).
With the recent close of the C-block personal communications services auction, the FCC has raked in more than $20 billion in auction proceeds so far.