House votes to limit FCC on regulations, merger authority

"This bill would not reform the FCC, it would disable it," House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said. "The bill erects procedural hurdles that make it more difficult for the FCC to protect consumers. It strips the FCC of its power to ensure that mergers between telecommunication companies are in the public interest.

"If this bill is enacted, it would stymie the ability of the agency to do much of anything, except produce reports for Congress."

But Republicans said the agency can stand to have some of the transparency requirements that the Obama administration has already applied to other agencies.

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"Everything the President's asking all the other agencies to do, in this legislation, we're saying FCC you should do as well," argued Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "If every other agency of the government can do a cost-benefit analysis, and even do a higher, more sophisticated level, what's wrong with asking the Federal Communications Commission to do a light-touch review of costs and benefits?"

While GOP remarks focused on improving the transparency, Republicans also pushed the bill in part to address their complaints about FCC pressure on merging companies. Some lawmakers criticized the FCC for pressuring Comcast to make commitments, such as offering channels aimed at racial minorities, to receive approval for its purchase of NBC Universal last year. The requirements fell under the FCC's authority to promote the public interest.

Just before the final vote, the House accepted two Democratic amendments to the bill. One would clarify that the bill will not impede the FCC's ability to provide communications to alert people of dangerous weather, and the other would say nothing in the bill will interfere with the FCC's rule in providing communications to state and local first responders.

Another amendment, from Walden, would make the FCC's handling of Freedom of Information Act requests more transparent.

But like so many bills that have passed the House, the FCC bill has no chance of being considered in the Democratic Senate. On top of that, the Obama administration on Monday said it would veto the bill if it somehow made it through the Congress.