Over at OTB, I look at proposed changes in parliamentary procedure in the House which continue the chamber’s bipartisan slide towards majority-party dictatorship—or, perhaps to riff on Matthew Shugart’s observations regarding the House, irresponsible party government.
Our beloved Congress, having spent the last year or so steadfastly ignoring reports from the FCC regarding potential problems with the upcoming digital television transition, has finally decided to do a 180 and delay the mandatory transition date at a point so late in the process as to invite unmitigated chaos.
I’ll gladly concede that Congress needed to fix the accounting rules that made the converter box coupon program “run out of money” (on paper at least) but fixing those rules easily could have been done anytime over the last year (when Congress was doing exactly nothing worthwhile that I can remember) without any impact on the transition date. Instead, now we have a situation where a billion-dollar public education campaign—still ongoing as of today—that has been drilling into Americans’ skulls the date “February 17, 2009” for months will be rendered moot because a small percentage of the population can’t find it in their annual budgets to find $50 for a box to make their TVs still work and can’t plan ahead enough to get a coupon to shave that down to $10.
The best part of this bill, however, is that it’s going to create a 120-day “half-transition” period during which some stations will switch off their analog signals and some won’t. So the folks without boxes are still at least partially screwed, since there’s a good chance they will need the boxes anyway on the 17th, and folks with a box or a digital TV will get to play the fun game of “make the TV rescan for channels” every time over the next few months a local station decides it’s had enough of spending $20k/month broadcasting its analog signal and goes digital on its own whim.
At least there are some winners. The cable and satellite industries must be loving every single minute of this nonsense.
I am inclined to agree with Steven Taylor (and, by extension, disagree with Nate Silver and Kevin Drum) that it’s a bit early to assume that the House Republicans are just voting “no” in lockstep for the sole sake of being obstructionists.
For starters, the Republicans didn’t kill—merely delay—the ill-advised push to pretend* we’re delaying the digital TV transition. I also think this fits into the larger theme of a protest against Democratic efforts to circumscribe debate in the House; even if Senate Republicans agreed with Senate Democrats on the content of the DTV delay bill and it passed by unanimous consent (which isn’t a “unanimous vote” by the way), that’s no excuse for the House Democrats to rush it to the floor the next day under suspension of the rules—which allows exactly 40 minutes of debate followed by zero amendments—especially when there is a real consensus behind passing a “clean” bill providing coupon funding without the fake-delay provisions.
The fact of the matter is that pace Silver nobody is likely to remember either vote, particularly since the stimulus bill is going to bounce around the Hill several times, after which plenty of House Republicans will hail whatever (likely minimal) changes come out of conference as satisfying their concerns, and we’ll all go back to obsessing over Sasha Obama’s taste in hoodies or something much more important to the future of the republic.
* …but really just covering the butts of official Washington by passing the buck—and, hopefully at least in Democrats’ eyes, the blame—for snowy TVs on February 18th to the broadcasters who have had the temerity to plan ahead based on a deadline set years ago and are in no position to actually delay their own switch-offs without financial penalties from tower contractors and incurring thousands of dollars a month in additional, unbudgeted expenses to keep their analog signals on until June.