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House Denies Digital Delay

Republicans deny President Obama’s request, but Democrats say they will be back soon with enough votes.

House Republicans today threw a monkey wrench into the Obama administration’s request to delay for four months the nation’s transition from analog to digital television broadcasting, but Democrats say they will be back soon with the votes to make the delay happen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-S.F.) plans to reintroduce a bill postponing the upcoming transition from Feb. 17 to June 12, probably next week, a spokesman said.


"House republicans blocked a non-controversial bill that would have addressed the concerns of millions of Americans," said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly. "The House is re-examining its next steps, including bringing the bill up for a vote soon under a rule that would require a simple majority."

With an estimated 6.5 million U.S. households still unprepared for the change, the White House had asked Congress to delay the switchover. The Bush Commerce Department had already used up its $1.34 billion budget to give consumers vouchers to buy conversion boxes. The new administration said it wanted to make sure all viewers — particularly in poor and rural communities – were ready.

In a unanimous voice-vote bill Monday night, the Senate agreed. Pelosi, calculating that the decision would be as much a no-brainer in the House as it was in the Senate, threw the measure on a suspension calendar of many items, which requires a two-thirds vote.

But House Republicans, arguing that a delay will burden wireless companies and television stations, offered just enough opposition to rob Pelosi of the two-thirds majority needed. TV stations would have to keep up the expense of broadcasting on both analog and digital stations for four more months, Republicans said.

"We could do nothing worse than to delay this transition date," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), ranking Republican on the House Commerce Committee, who led the push to defeat the measure. "The bill is a solution looking for a problem that exists mostly in the mind of the Obama administration."

Barton is pushing to replenish the Commerce Department’s budget for conversion vouchers, so that the nation can go ahead with the switch on Feb. 17.

In the Senate, Democrats assuaged Republican concerns by adding provisions that would allow broadcast stations to make the switch in February if they want to, and allowing promised spectrum to be released to public safety agencies as soon as it becomes available.

In the House, where the 258168 tally fell short of the two-thirds required, 22 Republicans voted for the bill, while 155 voted against it. Among Democrats, the vote was 236-13.