Public-safety network tees up House, Senate showdown

Waxman said in his opening statement: "Last month, I approached [Energy] Chairman [Fred] Upton [R-Mich.] and [Technology subpanel] Chairman [Greg] Walden [R-Ore.] and suggested that we emulate our Senate counterparts and work together on a bipartisan House bill that would provide for a nation-wide public safety network and make new spectrum available through incentive auctions. I hope they will take up up on this offer."

Waxman was presumed to favor the auction of a valuable block of spectrum to commercial providers, rather than the reallocation of that block to public-safety agencies. He paired up with Republicans to draft a bill accomplishing that last year. 

But after saying little in public on the issue since his party assumed the minority, it was unclear whether Waxman and a handful of other Energy and Commerce Democrats would lend their support to a Senate proposal in order to help isolate the committee's Republicans, who favor a less expensive option.  

The Senate plan is endorsed by the White House and Senate Democrats, who view the plan as a winning issue for their party. They have the chance to fulfill the wishes of emergency responders while Republican deficit hawks quibble over price. 

Appearing to acknowledge the bad optics for those who cross public safety, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said at Wednesday's hearing that he is committed to the communications network but that he "won't apologize" for his position against reallocating spectrum to public safety. 

As Senate and House members coalesce around competing proposals, compromise may be a long shot. 

Though both chambers want to create a network and see the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 as a looming deadline for congressional action, House and Senate telecom aides said a compromise proposal is becoming increasingly unlikely as the two chambers become wedded to their sides. 

"At this point, it's a black or white issue," a GOP Senate aide said. "If there is a middle ground or a middle way that can be found, it's certainly worth considering. But at the end of the day, a 'third way' is difficult because you either auction [the spectrum] or you reallocate it." 

Still, all hope for a House/Senate partnership isn't lost. 

Backers of the Senate plan have allies in the Republican membership of the House Homeland Security Committee. 

Homeland Security Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) called out his Energy and Commerce colleagues in a statement on Wednesday. 

"I request that Chairman Fred Upton and the House Energy and Commerce Committee take up H.R. 607, the Broadband for First Responders Act of 2011, as soon as possible so that we can provide our nation’s first responders with the tools they require to fulfill their mission," he said. "We must reallocate the D Block to public safety before the 10th anniversary of 9/11; doing so would fulfill one of the last remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations."

Senate Commerce Chairman Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Overnight Tech: Trump nominates Dem to FCC | Facebook pulls suspected baseball gunman's pages | Uber board member resigns after sexist comment Trump nominates former FCC Dem for another term MORE (D-W.Va.) and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchson (R-Texas) are planning a June markup of a bill supported by public safety. Their strategy has support from the Obama administration. Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMurkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Kavanaugh fight a GOP wake up call, but more is needed MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace: I told Jeb Bush 'he should have punched' Trump 'in the face' MORE (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have endorsed a similar plan.