Congressional calendar winding down on STELA

The clock is rapidly expiring on the 113th Congress.

While in the rest of the world, the beginning of June signals a nearing to the midpoint of the year, in Congress during an even-numbered election year, when the calendar flips to June, it signals a mere 10 workweeks until the end of the federal government's fiscal year.

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Whether Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) runs the House, this calendar remains as the July Fourth and August recesses allow members to stay connected with their constituents back home.

Everyone who has been in Washington for any length of time knows this time table. It focuses the minds of lawmakers on what can be accomplished and what cannot as the Congress draws near a close.

One prime example where the clock is in danger of running out on a law is the re-authorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA). A clean bill, without controversial amendments, would very likely pass before Congress adjourns, but amendments being considered by retiring Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) could serve as poison pills to the whole process.

At the urging of pay-television advocates, the Democratic majority on the committee would use the expiring law to create a new set of regulatory regimes that cripple the local broadcaster's ability to survive.

What might seem at first glance to be a complicated issue can be easily understood once you learn about the fundamental roles and relationships between local broadcasters and pay television providers.

Local broadcasters either directly produce or contractually provide content like local sports, news, weather, and national and local entertainment programming. The pay-television industry takes this product and re-transmits it to their customers, serving as an aggregator of a vast array of programming options, almost exclusively produced by others, for their customers.

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act is the law which, at least partially, governs the relationship between these two industries.

Unfortunately, rather than leaving well enough alone, Rockefeller's committee is considering amendments to STELA which benefit pay-television providers to the detriment of those who produce local content.

One particularly egregious example of this legislative choosing of winners and losers is a proposal that would force local broadcasters to provide their product to pay television providers even if a content payment contract between the provider and the local broadcaster is not in effect.

Even on Capitol Hill, it should be clear that the federal government compelling a private business to provide its services to another private business without a contractually agreed-upon payment price is wrong and should be rejected. Yet that is exactly what the pay-television industry hopes to put into reauthorization language dooming the bill.

One immutable fact in D.C. is that the legislative calendar rules supreme, and the clock is running out on STELA. If the Senate avoids the temptation to put the government's thumb on the scale in favor of either side in the free-market price negotiations between pay-television providers and local broadcasters, reauthorization of the act can become law. If not, the clock will strike 12 on the 113th Congress and STELA will cease to exist, left on the scrap heap for the next Congress to resurrect or not.

Manning (@rmanning957) is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government. Contact him at rmanning@getliberty.org.

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