Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 22, 2014

Posts in "Congressional Affairs"

December 19, 2014

Weekly Wrapup: Sony Pictures, CFPB Sues Sprint, and Senate GOP Rosters Change

Holiday vacations are fast-approaching for many, but before you jet off, here’s a roundup of some news and Technocrat posts this week.

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it has determined that North Korea was behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.
  • President Barack Obama said Sony Pictures had “made a mistake” in pulling the movie “The Interview.”
  • The White House’s announcement on Cuba included allowing commercial export of some communications devices and allowing telecommunications companies to establish infrastructure in Cuba so they can provide service.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Sprint, alleging the company billed wireless customers for unauthorized third-party charges over a roughly 10-year period.
  • There are some changes in store for the Republican rosters on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Judiciary Committee .
  • A group of 36 Democrats in the House and Senate wrote to Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, saying it’s “time for action” on net neutrality rules.
  • The Senate confirmed FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly for a full five-year term that started July 1, 2014.
  • Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wasn’t satisfied with Uber’s response to his letter where he raised privacy concerns.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it has an app to help the tipsy find a ride home.

December 17, 2014

Senate Confirms FCC’s O’Rielly

Before the 113th Congress ended, the Senate on Tuesday night approved a raft of nominees by unanimous consent. Among them was the nomination of the Federal Communications Commission’s Michael O’Rielly for another term on the panel.

O’Rielly, who’s been a commissioner since November 2013, was confirmed by the Senate last year to serve a partial term – what was left of former commissioner Robert McDowell’s term, which ended June 30 of this year. On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed O’Rielly for the full five-year term that started July 1, 2014.

Before joining the commission, O’Rielly was a long-time GOP Hill aide, including as policy adviser for Sen. John Cornyn’s, R-Texas, Republican whip ‘s office.

December 16, 2014

The Senate’s Still in Town and On Its To-Do List: Tax Extenders

On Monday, the Senate moved closer to sending a $41.6 billion package of tax breaks to the president as “party leaders tried to negotiate a way forward on the measure, which many lawmakers consider must-pass legislation,” reports CQ Roll Call’s Katy O’Donnell.

Within that package: a renewal of the business research and development tax credit for the 2014 tax year.

O’Donnell reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made a formal motion to proceed on the package on Monday.

She writes:

Extenders may be the last item on the agenda before the session ends, setting up the possibility of procedural votes later this week and a vote on final passage if Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cannot come to an agreement to expedite the process.

December 15, 2014

Changes in Store for Republican Rosters of Senate Commerce and Judiciary Panels

It looks like changes on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will happening on the Republican side of the panel as well next Congress.

On Monday, Senate Republicans announced committee assignments for the next Congress that starts in January, which the Republican Conference and the Senate will need to give formal approval.

The Senate Commerce panel’s Republican roster will add Jerry Moran of Kansas as well as the following new senators: Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. Dan Coats of Indiana, and Tim Scott of South Carolina, are leaving the panel.

The Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction includes telecom and space issues.

A few changes are set for the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary panel as well, which has jurisdiction over intellectual property and some tech issues. David Vitter, R-La., will be added to the panel as well as new lawmakers David Perdue of Georgia and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. It looks like the Republicans who are currently on the panel will stay on the committee.

December 12, 2014

Senate Commerce to See Changes on Democratic Roster

There are going to be some changes on the Democratic side of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee next year.

On Friday, the Senate Democratic Steering Committee announced their members for committees in the next Congress, although the rosters still need to get formal approval by the Democratic caucus and the full Senate when lawmakers return next year.

Chief among the changes is that Bill Nelson, of Florida, will take the top Democratic spot on the panel as ranking member. He replaces Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia, who is retiring.

Leaving the panel is Barbara Boxer, of California, and John Walsh, of Montana.

Joe Manchin III, of West Virginia, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Gary Peters of Michigan will join the panel. They’ll be replacing seats left open by Rockefeller, and two lawmakers who lost their Senate seats in the mid-term elections: Mark Pryor, of Arkansas, and Mark Begich, of Alaska.

Weekly Wrapup: E-Rate Funding Cap Increase, Internet Tax Moratorium and IP Nominees

Among the happenings this week: the Federal Communications Commission increased the funding cap on the E-Rate program, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on intellectual property nominees, and the spending package to fund the federal government includes provisions such as an extension of the Internet tax moratorium.

  • The House passed a spending package to fund the federal government that includes an extension of the Internet tax moratorium through Oct. 1, 2015. It also includes a provision that would block the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from relinquishing its responsibilities over Internet domain names and other domain functions. The NTIA wants to shift those duties to organizations with a stake in the Internet, but Republicans have opposed the change. The Senate’s now considering the package.
  • The Federal Communications Commission approved a measure that would raise by $1.5 billion the funding cap for the E-Rate program that helps schools and libraries pay for Internet access. And since the program’s supported by Universal Service Fund fees, consumers will see up to $1.90 in additional fees on their phone bills each year.
  • Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, who is expected to be the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee, made clear that the nominations of Michelle K. Lee to be director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Daniel H. Marti to be the White House’s intellectual property enforcement coordinator, wouldn’t advance in the 113th Congress, since there wasn’t enough time. But he also indicated that the nominations might be acted on early in the next Congress.
  • Technocrat had a Q&A with University of North Carolina law professor William P. Marshall about the Supreme Court case involving violent comments made on Facebook. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
  • The Telecommunications Industry Association organized a letter to FCC commissioners and House and Senate leaders opposing proposals to reclassify broadband as a common carrier as part of the FCC’s rewrite of net neutrality rules. Sixty companies signed on including IBM, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Cisco, and dLink.
  • BSA | The Software Alliance released a survey of roughly 1,500 business owners and decision makers in the U.S. and Europe on data analytics and among its U.S. findings: While 33 percent thought more than 10 percent of their company’s growth will be related to data analytics this year, 58 percent thought the same looking five years from now.

Massie, Surveillance and ‘Backdoors’

massie 056 050714 445x296 Massie, Surveillance and Backdoors

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A bipartisan group in Congress plans to continue pushing legislation that would ban federal agencies from requiring technology companies to provide “backdoor” access to their products for government surveillance.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced a bill last week to do that, and her co-sponsors include Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Thomas Massie  of Kentucky.  Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden  introduced a Senate version.

A similar proposal was part of a broader amendment by Massie that the House adopted to a defense spending bill earlier this year. That amendment wasn’t included in the final version of the defense bill that’s part of an omnibus spending package that the House passed Thursday night and the Senate is now considering.

Massie told Technocrat on Friday that the bill’s introduction at the tail end of the Congress was “just putting our marker in the ground to say hey, we’re not gonna let this issue go away, and we’ll have to reintroduce it again, probably in January or fairly soon.”

“And I think it’s like eating an elephant one bite at a time,” Massie said. “It’s a small reform, but it’s something that could possibly pass as a stand-alone. It might not have to be an amendment to an appropriation bill or attached to a Patriot Act reauthorization.”


December 11, 2014

Commercial Space Accidents: What Some Experts Have to Say

Experts say that two accidents in the commercial spaceflight industry this year won’t have much effect on its increasing expansion, CQ Roll Call’s Rob Margetta reports.

Within the course of a week this past fall, an Orbital Sciences rocket that was on its way to take cargo to the International Space Station exploded shortly after lift-off and Virgin Galactic’s suborbital craft known as SpaceShipTwo, which is intended for space tourism,  had a deadly accident during a test flight.

Margetta writes in this Roll Call Policy Focus that so far, lawmakers haven’t “jumped on the incidents as a reason to clamp down on the industry”:

After the Orbital Sciences explosion, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said, “space flight is inherently risky,” but commercial space ventures “will ultimately be successful.” He expressed similar thoughts on the Virgin Galactic accident.

“Experts are hoping other lawmakers take similarly deliberative approaches; some have expressed frustration about the way the recent accidents have been reported,” Margetta writes.

He goes on to report that Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University, and “some others who study space travel say though the timing was unfortunate, comparing the two accidents is unfair and possibly misleading.”

You can find the rest of the story here.

December 10, 2014

Time’s Run Out for Intellectual Property Nominees This Year, But Potential Early Advancement Next Congress?

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday on Michelle K. Lee to be director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Daniel H. Marti to be the White House’s intellectual property enforcement coordinator. With time having basically run out for confirmations before lawmakers head out of town, the top Republican on the committee, Charles E. Grassley  of Iowa panel made clear to anyone who might be wondering that the two are not likely to get a vote before the 113th Congress ends.

“I think everybody in the room today, including the nominees, understand that there isn’t enough time for these nominations to be confirmed before we adjourn,” said Grassley, who’s expected to be the next chairman of the committee. But he also indicated that the nominations might advance early in the next Congress, when Republicans have a majority.

Explaining a discussion during the hearing between Grassley and the current chairman, Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., about timing for advancement of the nominees, Grassley told Technocrat that he was reluctant to say now exactly what the agenda was going to be, but that “I would think with these folks’ qualifications they’re not going to … languish for months, you know,” he said.

Grassley said that in the new Congress, lawmakers, especially new committee members, would have time to ask questions, and he indicated that it could happen either through another hearing or questions submitted for the record, depending on what panel members want.

He noted that nothing was final  – “because I’m just now going around visiting with the members of the committee and getting their judgment of what should be done and what their priorities are, and I’m going to wait [until] I get done with that before I make a final decision.”

December 8, 2014

The Week Ahead: Human Space Flight, the Sharing Economy and Surveillance

It could be the last week of the 113th Congress (maybe?) and with the December holidays fast approaching, it promises to be a packed with congressional hearings on intellectual property nominees, drones and human space flight and events on issues from surveillance to the sharing economy.


The Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus hosts a panel discussion on the sharing economy.

The Direct Marketing Association and Venable LLP hold an event titled the “The Dynamic State of Data: A Policy Briefing for the Data-Driven Marketing Community.”

The Personal Connected Health Alliance’s mHealth Summit on mobile and connected health continues into the week.


The Atlantic holds a panel event on science, technology, education and math careers.

National Consumers League holds a panel discussion on legislation on data security standards.


The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on surveillance, specifically on “legal intercept.”

The Brookings Institution holds an event on mobile technologies and developing economies.

BSA | The Software Alliance holds a panel discussion on data.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association and The American Antitrust Institute hold an event on patent assertion entities.

A House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee holds a hearing on NASA’s heavy rocket and and crew vehicle.

A House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee holds a hearing on drones.

The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee holds a cybersecurity hearing.

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the nominations of Michelle K. Lee, to head the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Daniel H. Marti, to be the White House’s intellectual property enforcement coordinator.


The Federal Communications Commission holds its December open meeting.


The Cato Institute holds a day-long surveillance conference.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds a panel discussion on the Internet of Things.

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