After months of squabbling, Congress finally passed a controversial budget-reconciliation bill that set a deadline for the 2009 shutdown of analog television. President Bush signed the legislation into law Feb. 8. It’s over now, right?
Well, not quite. It seems that due to a clerical typo the House and Senate bills were not identical, as the law said it must be. The Senate version contained a 13-month subsidy for Medicare patients’ equipment, while the House provided 39 months for equipment. The final bill sent from the House to the president’s desk contained the Senate’s 13-month limit. The error, apparently the fault of a Congressional clerk, resulted in $2 billion spending difference between the two bills.
What does this have to do with DTV? Everything, since the entire DTV legislative package is contained in this $39 billion dollar spending package. If the legislation is found not to be valid, neither is the new DTV policy. In a less contentious time, members of Congress would simply vote to fix the technicality. But since the legislation is highly controversial due to its severe spending cuts for social programs, it barely passed both bodies in the first place. Neither body wants to revisit the issue in fear that a second vote may rip the entire bill apart. Several legislators, feeling pressure from constituents, have indicated they may vote against the measure if the opportunity arises again.
Don’t expect the matter to be ignored. One taxpayer is already suing in an attempt to topple the legislation, which a court is very like to do. Congressional leaders are currently at an impasse.