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House of Representatives

The House Meets to Debate Paycheck Protection Act Funds. But Why Can’t Congress Conduct Business Remotely?

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An image from video as Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., gestures to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., as they speak on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday

April 23, 2020— Congress is “unwilling and unable, but mostly unwilling” to attempt remote voting, said Daniel Schuman, the policy director of Demand Progress, at a webinar hosted by the Cato Institute on Thursday.

With congressmen spread across the country practicing social distancing, the answer to the question of how they vote, pass laws, and help run the country has been elusive.

The question was in the air again on Thursday as members of Congress returned to Washington to debate and vote on the national legislature’s forth major coronavirus stimulus package – a $484 billion funding measure, with a $310 billion replenishment of funds for the Paycheck Protection Program. Other funding was for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.

The measure was the first time Congress has convened for traditional legislative debate since the passage of the U.S. CARES Act on March 27.

Congress passed the first coronavirus-focused measure on March 8, an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill. The second, which passed the House on March 12 and the Senate on March 18, spent about $500 billion on unemployment insurance.

The U.S. CARES Act was the third measure, and totaled more than $2 trillion. The package included $300 billion for the first round of the PPP, and which were already spent by last week.

The Paycheck Protection Program provides forgivable loans for businesses to retain their employees for 2.5 months.

During all of these legislative debates, once central question has been: Why can’t Congress conduct its business remotely?

Some claim that electronic voting is not safe enough, while others say that congressmen are too old to adapt to new technologies.

“The legislative branch, for the foreseeable future, is defunct,” said Schuman, an often-forthright critic of a highly inactive Congress.

Schuman dug into Congress’ unreadiness and reluctance to adapt.

“Congress historically is unwilling and unable to invest in itself,” he said. Apparently, several motions have been proposed in the past to create a nuclear-like contingency plan for electronic voting, but Congress has chosen not to pursue them.

He expressed his belief that congressmen have failed to act because they were afraid that their spending on electronic voting system would represent “frivolous spending” to their constituents. As a result, they use technology that Schuman described as “the oldest, jankiest stuff.”

Schuman contended that it would not be hard to implement an electronic voting system, but congressmen have a hard time “conceptualizing” that and furthermore don’t trust security.

Schuman contrasted these responses with the relative readiness of the U.K. parliamentary system, which recently announced that it will be conducting voting through Zoom. In addition, Schuman mentioned how New Jersey and Utah have adopted similar procedures for their state assemblies. “The problem isn’t the security but the people.”

Another problem of a lack of voting, besides a sluggish legislature, is that it cedes power to the executive branch, throwing the country’s system of checks and balances into disarray. “They are making the executive branch very powerful,” Schuman said, referring to the legislature’s relative absence from political affairs.

“This is really about political will. This is about the desire to do your job and to innovate,” Schuman said.

David Jelke was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience. Growing up in Miami, he learned to speak Spanish during a study abroad semester in Peru. He is now teaching himself French on his iPhone.

House of Representatives

Telecom, Online Marketplace Consumer Protection Bills Pass House Committee

Among the bills sent to the House, the committee passed two on telecom and one on consumer safety.

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Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed several bills Wednesday, including two on telecom policy and one meant to address consumer safety when using online retailers.

H.R. 1218, the “Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act,” H.R. 2501, the “Spectrum Coordination Act,” and H.R. 5502, the “Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act” were all passed unopposed and without amendments.

H.R. 1218 is a bill intended to target broadband resources to areas where “telehealth may be useful in the monitoring and care of pregnant women,” bill co-sponsor Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, said during the hearing, adding “it is a moral imperative to address the maternal mortality crisis in the United States.” The bill’s other sponsors are Reps. Lisa Rochester, D-Delaware, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida.

“To effectively deploy 21st Century resources to address the shocking rates of maternal mortality, the nation must first identify which communities lack adequate Internet access and have high maternal mortality rates. That is exactly what this bill seeks to do,” said Rochester.

H.R. 2501, which is sponsored by Bilirakis, requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – an agency of the Commerce Department – and the Federal Communications Commission to update the memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination, to ensure that spectrum is shared efficiently, and that a process is created to better resolve frequency allocation disputes.

H.R. 5502, co-sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D- Illinois, takes aim at online retailers that do not take responsibility for the products that third-party groups sell on their marketplace. Legislators supporting this legislation asserted that this has allowed bad actors to sell unsafe, counterfeit, or otherwise fraudulent goods on common marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.

“What we’re saying now is very simply that online marketplaces will have to verify that the identity of their higher volume sellers, so they have to take some responsibility,” said Schakowsky. “It’s not just about counterfeiters, it’s not just about defrauding – we are talking about danger every year around this time.”

“This legislation is really going to help the consumers and legitimate businesses that are selling products and becoming victims themselves.”

Amazon has been on the wrong end of state court rulings recently that have made it liable for defective products. Experts on a Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event in May remarked that this could open the floodgates for these types of lawsuits, a contrast to when Section 230 liability protections for platforms have historically been used as strong defenses for these platforms.

Now that these bills have passed their committee, they will be sent to the House to be considered. Should they successfully be passed in the House, they will be sent to the Senate and undergo a similar procedure; if the bills are successfully passed in both the House and Senate, they will then be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he can decide whether to sign them into law.

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Broadband's Impact

House Commerce Committee Aligned on Telecom, Mapping and Supply Chain Security, Says Ranking Member

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Photo from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' website

March 18, 2021 – House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, said Wednesday that the committee was among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom.

Rodgers, who was speaking at the Internet Innovation Alliance with co-chair Bruce Mehlman, said that her Republican colleagues have put forth 28 solutions that would remove regulatory barriers and streamline broadband processes yet demonstrate funding is being spent wisely. She called on the government to ensure cost-effective ways to spend federal dollars.

She said the committee’s priority must be on accurate broadband mapping. That requires funding for more granular data. She also argued for national security against China, including on solar and wind energy products.

Rodgers also said she was excited about low-earth orbit satellites and the potential future they bring in connecting parts of the country with internet that have been “economically unfeasible in the past.”

Asked of her thoughts on virtual learning from home, especially how her 14-year old son with down syndrome is faring, Rodgers said she was completely in favor of reopening schools safely because not all parents have the means to provide optimal learning spaces at home.

Calling herself a working mother who could afford to provide an assistant to help her son through his school day, Rodgers said it was not the best way to learn when compared to in-person schooling.

This came after she said the country has the best networks and “some of the fastest speeds at the lowest prices in the world for internet service.”

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House of Representatives

Emphasis on Combating COVID-19 and Rebuilding Infrastructure at First Energy and Commerce Meeting

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Photo of Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, by Bonnie Cash used with permission

January 28, 2021—During the first organizational meeting of the House Commerce Committee of the 117th Congress, Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey welcomed the newest members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bulk of the Committee’s first meeting was dedicated to discussing best practices to reduce healthcare and prescription drug costs, rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, and combat climate change.

Members further discussed rebuilding and restoring the essential functions of key agencies. Strengthening the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency were deemed essential. Members considered the waning of the two agencies to be at “the very heart” of creating some of the nation’s most pressing current legislative and policy issues.

Members also approved governing procedures and announce subcommittee chairs, ranking members, and other subcommittee assignments.

Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is  the new ranking member, and the first woman in that role for the committee.

Pallone further announced Democratic members joining the Committee, including Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, known for her interest in climate change and infrastructure. Rep. Angie Craig, of Minnesota, was touted for work on the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington was recognized for her work as a pediatrician.

Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts has an interested in the opioid pandemic and the environment. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas is focused on first responders and firefighting foams.

Pallone addressed members of the committee in the 117th Congress

Pallone thanked members and reiterated the need to enact policies to combat COVID-19 through vaccine distribution. He criticized former President Donald Trump for lacking effective implementation strategies to vaccinate more Americans sooner.

He said policies were needed that “provide critical assistance to struggling families, rebuild our economy, and bring an end to the pandemic, so people can begin to safely return to regular practice of life.”

Pallone praised President Joe Biden’s executive orders on vaccine distribution, expanded access to testing, and utilization of the Defense Production Act, which allows continued access to medical supplies and personal protective equipment for testing and vaccination.

The committee also took time to celebrate its own 225th birthday, which occurred last month. It is the oldest committee in the House.

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