Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 23, 2014

November 21, 2014

Weekly Wrapup: Surveillance, Immigration and Satellite Television

It was a busy week, with the Senate rejecting moving forward with a surveillance overhaul bill, President Barack Obama announcing executive actions on immigration and Congress sending a satellite television bill to the White House.

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By Anne L. Kim Posted at 4:53 p.m.

‘Integration Ban’ On Its Way End, Process to Start Working Group to Start Immediately

A five-year satellite television reauthorization bill is on its way to the President after both the House and Senate passed the measure this week, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he would immediately start the process of forming a working group required in the bill to look into a next generation follow-on to the CableCARD.

The bill would repeal the so-called “integration ban” one year after the bill is enacted. As CQ Roll Call’s Daniel Peake writes (subscription), this is the requirement that cable and satellite set-top boxes use a common device (the CableCARD) for signal decryption:

CableCARD was developed in an effort to help independent manufacturers of set-top boxes and other electronics to compete against cable and satellite companies by eliminating the need for the specific set-top box provided by the cable or satellite operator.

The bill Congress sent to the President Thursday also would require Wheeler, within a month-and-a-half of the bill’s enactment, to create a working group of technical experts to recommend performance objectives and technical standards of a “not unduly burdensome, uniform, and technology- and platform-neutral software-based downloadable security system designed to promote the competitive availability of navigation devices…” The panel would be required to submit recommendations to the FCC within nine months of the bill’s enactment.

“We’re gonna move now,” Wheeler told reporters Friday in answering a question about whether the group would be commenced immediately, assuming the President signs the bill.  He noted that the agency first has to go through a process under existing law to form such a council, but said that the agency would start that process now.

On Thursday, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote to Wheeler  saying the FCC should work to ensure a “competitive set top box marketplace” and to do so, would need to “require a new simpler, cheaper and more efficient standard of common reliance embedded in all set top boxes.”

They called on the FCC to issue rules for a new standard, and fast:

If STELAR becomes law, we urge the FCC to immediately convene this working group and, following the group’s conclusion, quickly commence a rulemaking so that a new standard can be developed without delay. Without strong FCC action, consumers may be left with no choice but to rent set top boxes from their cable providers in perpetuity, which is akin to the days when consumers had no choice but to rent their rotary dial telephone from the telephone company.

Roundup: President’s Immigration Executive Actions and Tech

President Barack Obama announced his long-awaited executive actions on immigration on Thursday, and CQ Roll Call’s Steven Dennis has the details of the executive actions here.

Reuters lays out parts of the plan that affect the tech industry and reports that “tech industry insiders said the changes, while positive, were limited.” From Reuters:

President Barack Obama plans to make life a little easier for some foreign tech workers, but Silicon Valley representatives are disappointed his immigration rule changes will not satisfy longstanding demands for more visas and faster green cards.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

Mr. Obama’s plan contained only minor benefits for businesses that crave more visas for foreign workers and which have lobbied unsuccessfully for action in Congress. A new program will expand immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria. But White House officials said they opted against a plan, favored by high-tech companies, to make visas available from those unused in prior years, after concluding they couldn’t justify it legally.

The Los Angeles Times reports that tech leaders in “Silicon Valley and the Southland collectively reacted to President Obama’s national address with a shrug and a slight smile. But nobody’s jumping for joy.”

More from the Los Angeles Times:

That’s because presidential orders on immigration cannot address the problems that trouble technology companies most: tight limits on temporary visas for high-skilled workers, and a cumbersome system for achieving “green card” permanent resident status they say causes too many talented workers to give up and go back home. Congressional action is required to fix those.

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 9:08 a.m.

November 20, 2014

Culberson to be Next House C-J-S ‘Cardinal’

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House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., left, and Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, at a markup in the Rayburn Building on April 9. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Texas Republican John Culberson is slated to become the next chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee and on Thursday he signaled that he’ll be a booster for NASA and the National Science Foundation.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., announced on Thursday the 12 House Appropriations subcommittee chairman (known as “cardinals”) approved by the House Republican Steering Committee.  Among them: Culberson for the panel that has jurisdiction over funding for NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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State-of-Play on Online Sales Tax Legislation

CQ Roll Call’s Sarah Chacko gives the state-of-play on online sales tax legislation in the latest Roll Call Policy Focus.

Chacko writes:

Though the Senate appears ready to pass a second bill allowing states to require online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases made by their residents, House leaders seem intent on keeping the issue out of an end-of-Congress rush for action.

The Senate passed legislation by Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., in May of 2013. Chacko writes that Enzi has another bill queued up on the Senate floor that would combine the sales tax provisions with a 10-year extension of the Internet tax moratorium.

She writes:

Supporters of the measure hope for final action by the end of the year.

The House, though, is more difficult for them. Republican leaders back an extension of the Internet access tax moratorium, but Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia want to handle the issue separately from online sales taxes. Earlier this month, a Boehner spokesman said the Senate sales tax bill is as good as dead.

The access tax moratorium is set to expire, along with government funding, on Dec. 11, but House leaders might attach it to another stopgap spending bill or legislation to continue expiring tax breaks.

For more on “origin sourcing,” the “destination-source method,” the different congressional landscape for next year, and what the online sales tax issue has to do with potential gas tax hikes in Maryland and Virginia, read the rest of the story  here.

November 19, 2014

Lynch, Unhappy With Postal Service Data Breach Response, Mulls Legislation

After a data breach affecting roughly 800,000 U.S. Postal Service employees was made public earlier this month, the ranking Democrat on a House Oversight & Government Affairs subcommittee signaled he was thinking about legislation that would require automatic disclosure.

Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass. said at a Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that he was “disappointed” with the Postal Service’s response, arguing employees should have been notified earlier.

Employees should be notified as soon as it’s known that personally identifiable information has been compromised, Lynch said at the hearing.

Under the Postal Service’s plan, a U.S. government agency could have Social Security numbers of all its employees compromised, and it decides based on its own interests when they’ll be notified, he said.

“That doesn’t work,” he said.

“We gotta figure something out,” Lynch said in questioning Randy Miskanic, vice president of the U.S. Postal Service’s Secure Digital Solutions group. “Maybe it’s legislatively we need… mandate this, but you have to be more forthcoming with the people that you’re supposed to be protecting than you have been in this case.”

Full story

House E&C Leadership: Pallone to be Ranking Democrat, GOP Subcommittee Chairs Announced


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Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., and Frank Pallone, D-N.J., talk during a news conference at the House Triangle on April 8. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., beat Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., in the race to be the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee next Congress, CQ Roll Call’s Emma Dumain reports.

Also on Wednesday, chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., whom the House Republican Steering Committee on Tuesday recommended continue to be chairman of the full panel, announced GOP subcommittee chairmanships for next Congress. Oregon Republican Greg Walden will continue to be at the helm of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. Texas Republican Michael C. Burgess, known for his expertise in health policy, will lead the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee, which also has jurisdiction over some tech-related issues. He takes over for Lee Terry, R-Neb., who lost his re-election bill earlier this month.


Senate Rejects Moving Forward on Surveillance Bill, What’s Next?

The Senate voted against moving forward with a surveillance overhaul bill Tuesday evening and CQ Roll Call’s Steven Dennis has the recap.

Dennis writes:

Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted to block the bill, which came just two votes shy of the 60 needed to come to the floor for debate.

The 58-42 vote fell largely along party lines, with a handful of Republicans (Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Dean Heller, R-Nev., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska) breaking from their party to vote in favor of invoking cloture (cutting off debate) on a motion to consider the bill by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. Bill Nelson of Florida was the only Democrat who voted in opposition.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted in opposition because it would have extended certain expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. “In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans were eager to catch and punish the terrorists who attacked us,” he said in a statement. “I, like most Americans, demanded justice. But one common misconception is that the Patriot Act applies only to foreigners—when in reality, the Patriot Act was instituted precisely to widen the surveillance laws to include U.S. citizens.”

CQ Roll Call’s Rob Margetta reports (subscription) that Tuesday’s vote likely pushes any possible action on the National Security Agency’s domestic bulk phone metadata collection to the next Congress, adding that:

With Congress now extremely unlikely to take action in the lame duck, lawmakers will have to act on surveillance before June 2015, when Section 215 statutory language — which even some privacy advocates say contains important surveillance authorities — would expire.

The New York Times looks at the lay of the land for next year:

But Tuesday’s vote only put off until next year a debate over security and personal liberties. While a Republican-controlled Senate is less likely to go along with the kinds of reforms that were in the bill, which sponsors had named the U.S.A. Freedom Act, the debate could further expose rifts between the party’s interventionist and more libertarian-leaning wings.

The new Congress will also be working against a hard deadline because the legal authority for the data collection will expire next year.

The Washington Post reports that the “failure to pass legislation before next year could pose hurdles for the GOP” and writes that it will also be a challenge for the Obama administration.

November 18, 2014

Expect to See Trade Secret Legislation Re-Introduced Next Congress

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Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., speaks with reporters as he arrives in the Capitol for a vote on Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Among the tech-related bills we’ll likely see re-introduced next Congress is legislation that would let companies sue in federal court for trade secret theft.

At an intellectual property event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who introduced Senate legislation on the matter earlier this year, noted that the House Judiciary Committee has approved legislation sponsored by Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., and said he hoped and intended that he and current co-sponsor Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, would reintroduce the proposal in January and move it towards what he was “optimistic” would be its speedy passage.

Ted Schroeder, Coons’ chief counsel, said earlier in the day that it’s always been considered consensus legislation and said “we’re right there, we’re very close.”

Hatch, who’s likely to head the Finance panel next Congress, mentioned trade secret legislation as part of an innovation agenda he laid out in October.


Retiring Congressman Will Lead AAAS

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Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., walks down the House steps. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Retiring Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., will become chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science starting next year.

Holt, whose background is as a physicist, will replace long-time CEO Alan I.  Leshner who announced his retirement earlier this year.

From the CQ Profile on Holt:

From his post on the Education and the Workforce Committee, Holt has actively promoted math and science education. Holt wrote several science and technology provisions in a 2008 higher education law, including a program providing loan forgiveness for students committed to serve in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields after graduation….

More federal attention should go to professional development programs for teachers, Holt said. When panel Republicans pushed two bills in 2012 as part of an attempted education law rewrite, Holt said they “ignored science education altogether.” He introduced legislation in 2011 and 2013 to provide certain full-time school teachers of STEM courses with a tax credit for 10 percent of their undergraduate tuition.

On his claim to fame outside of Congress:

Outside of his congressional accomplishments, Holt’s claim to fame might be his five wins on the TV quiz show “Jeopardy!” In 2011, he beat the IBM Watson computer in a round of the game show. “I didn’t expect to win,” Holt said. “This Watson software is a really pretty important step, and it was an opportunity to highlight research.”

More on Holt here and here.

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