This Week: House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee advances net neutrality legislation, Senators unveil bipartisan legislation calling for federal coordination to develop 5G security strategy, EU adopts sweeping copyright directive, House Highways & Transit Subcommittee leaders discuss the future of U.S. infrastructure, Secretary Chao appears before Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to support DOT’s FY20 budget request
Week in Review
This week, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) announced they will not seek reelection in 2020. Udall is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Serrano chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, and Justice.
On Tuesday, the House voted 248-181, short of the two-thirds required, to override the President’s veto of a resolution ending his emergency declaration to redirect federal funds to build a border wall. Yesterday, the House voted largely along party lines to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, aimed at closing the gender pay gap. Elsewhere, the House Financial Services Committee voted 45-15 this morning to advance the SAFE Banking Act, legislation that would shield banks, credit unions, and, as amended, insurers, from federal penalties for providing services to marijuana businesses that are operating legally under state laws.
The Senate started its week with a procedural vote on the Green New Deal Resolution. No senators voted in favor of taking up the non-binding resolution, with most Democrats voting ‘present’ on what amounted to a political messaging vote. Later, senators voted 90-10 to begin debate on a $13.5 billion FY19 supplemental disaster aid bill package, but it remains unclear how or if the package will move forward as Democrats call for increased funds directed to Puerto Rico. Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) also intends to try to force a vote on an amendment that would block funds to the Department of Justice from being used to support a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.
This morning, David Bernhardt testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in support of his nomination to be the Secretary of the Interior. This afternoon, the Senate voted 95-1 to confirm Nicole Nason to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.
Earlier this week, the President hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington for bilateral meetings. On Tuesday, the White House formally sent Jeff Rosen’s nomination to be Deputy Attorney General to the Senate. Rosen is currently the Deputy Secretary of Transportation. Yesterday, the President signed a memorandum directing a number of federal agencies to develop plans to reform the U.S. housing finance system, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session for the first two weeks of April before adjourning for a two week recess. Members will return to Washington on April 29.
Next week, Cabinet secretaries and agency heads will continue to appear before the House and Senate Appropriations and authorizing committees to support the President’s FY20 budget request. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will be among those testifying.
The Senate will resume consideration of the supplemental disaster aid package. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold an executivesession to mark up pending legislation, including Heidi King’s nomination to Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It will also consider the the bipartisan TRACED Act, which aims to crack down on abusive robocalls. The markup comes on the heels of an announcement this week that the FTC settled with four defendants charged with making billions of illegal robocalls to consumers as part of the agency’s broader effort to curb abusive robocalls.
House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Advances Net Neutrality Legislation
On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a markup of Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle’s (D-PA) H.R. 1644, the Save the Internet Act. In his opening remarks, E&C Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) touted the merits of the legislation, underscoring the importance of provisions first established under the 2015 Obama Administration Open Internet Order that would prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. “Without this legislation, there is no backstop to make sure big corporations don’t use their power to undermine and silence their small competitors or the political opposition,” Pallone stated. Subcommittee Chair Doyle then explained that despite the Committee’s bipartisan reputation and ongoing efforts to collaborate with Republican members, he and his staff had not received any outreach from their GOP colleagues on “this legislation, any potential amendments, or any other related legislation.”
Despite these claims, E&C Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) reiterated his commitment to “a bipartisan solution to preserving a free and open internet.” During the markup, Republicans proposed five amendments to the legislation, all of which failed by voice vote. GOP members opted against requesting recorded votes on the proposed amendments. Instead, Republicans are expected to push three net neutrality bills led by Ranking Member Walden, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-OH), and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) alongside additional amendments during a forthcoming full committee markup.
Following deliberations, the Subcommittee voted 18-11 along party lines to pass the legislation. A full committee markup is expected as early as next week.
Senators Unveil Bipartisan Legislation Calling for Federal Coordination to Develop 5G Security Strategy
On Wednesday, Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Richard Burr (R-NC), Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the Secure 5G and Beyond Act, which calls for an interagency strategy for ensuring security of 5G networks and future networks. Once developed, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would be tasked with implementing the strategy in coordination with other federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security. Should it pass, the bill would prohibit a recommendation from the interagency body to nationalize a 5G or other future networks. In addition, it seeks to have the Executive Branch assist foreign allies to maximize the security of their telecommunication networks. The legislation is intended to address the myriad security risks that are in the news concerning telecommunications networks and the equipment upon which they rely. Senator Cornyn noted that “it’s critical that we develop a strategy to protect potential vulnerabilities from being exploited by our adversaries.” Senator Warner echoed this sentiment, adding that “the greater complexity, density, and speed of 5G networks relative to traditional communications networks will make securing these networks exponentially harder…It’s imperative that we have a coherent strategy, led by the president, to harness the advantages of 5G in a way that understands and addresses the risks.”
In addition to the bill’s lead sponsors, other original co-sponsors are Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). The bill will likely be referred to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration, which has been very active on 5G, holding a number of hearings and considering legislative needs to promote 5G deployment ubiquitously across the U.S.
EU Adopts Sweeping Copyright Directive
This week, the European Parliament voted 348-274 (with 36 abstentions) to adopt new sweeping copyright rules amid ongoing protests from critics. The measure, which policymakers began drafting in 2016, would require platforms to sign licensing agreements with authors, musicians, and news publishers to post their content, as well as proactively remove unlicensed copyright material. “The directive aims to ensure that the longstanding rights and obligations of copyright law also apply to the internet…The directive also strives to ensure that the internet remains a space for freedom of expression,” the European Parliament press office stated in a release.
“This directive is an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on,” German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and lead rapporteur Axel Voss explained in a statement on the measure. In contrast, German MEP and vocal copyright directive critic Julia Reda published a series of posts outlining “unprecedented public opposition” to the directive, specifically citing widespread protests across Europe against the proposal.
EU Member States must now approve the Parliament-adopted proposal. If approved, the directive will be published in the official journal of the European Union, triggering a two year window for Member State implementation.
House Highways & Transit Subcommittee Leaders Discuss the Future of U.S. Infrastructure
Earlier today, the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit discussed the state of U.S. infrastructure and integrating emerging technologies during an event hosted by Axios and Uber. Chairwoman Norton (D-DC) raised the issue of political gridlock when asked to explain the delay in passing a comprehensive infrastructure package. She noted that lawmakers face difficulty in finding bipartisan solutions to funding infrastructure repair and modernization. While Democrats favor raising taxes to fund these projects, Norton suggested Republicans have raised concerns with increasing citizens’ financial burden. With regard to integrating emerging technologies, Norton explained that Congress will need to reconsider tax breaks for fuel efficient vehicles in order to sustain the Highway Trust Fund. She noted that electric and hybrid vehicles, while environmentally friendly, have not contributed to raising funds for roads through the gas tax.
Ranking Member Davis (R-IL) echoed Chairwoman Norton in discussing reasons for the delay in passing an infrastructure package. He commended House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman DeFazio (D-OR) for working with the White House on infrastructure issues, but added that partisan politics within Congress have blocked progress. Davis emphasized the need for an infrastructure bill to accommodate the different needs in rural and urban areas of the country. To resolve funding shortages, he advocated for creating a multi-funding system similar to a 401k. The ranking member also highlighted his Innovative Materials for America’s Growth and Infrastructure Newly Expanded (IMAGINE) Act as a means to integrate innovative and resilient materials to maintain surface infrastructure.
Secretary Chao Appears Before Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to Support DOT’s FY20 Budget Request
On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) held a hearing entitled “Review of the FY2020 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Transportation.” In her opening statement, Secretary Chao outlined the President’s proposed FY20 budget, which requests $84 billion to support transportation programs in the coming year. She added that while the budget is a $5 billion lower than FY 2019 funding, the Administration factored in additional infrastructure investments to which Congress committed in the two-year government-wide discretionary funding agreement.
Republican members generally avoided criticizing the Administration’s budget proposal. Subcommittee Chairwoman Collins (R-ME) expressed concern that the budget does not address funding shortages for the Highway Trust Fund but commended the proposal for its resources related to infrastructure grant programs. Democrats largely criticized the Administration for its proposed budget cuts and expressed skepticism that public-private partnerships and state resources can sustain infrastructure projects. Aside from remarks on the budget proposal, lawmakers focused the majority of their questions on issues related to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety certifications. Secretary Chao assured committee members that the DOT and FAA are committed to maintaining security of the national airspace and are equipped with the expertise necessary to evaluate safety concerns.