FCC is finally playing with a full deck

4 August 2017 by Steve Blum
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It was bipartisanship, of a sort, when the U.S. senate confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr as FCC commissioners yesterday. Senate democrats wanted to score some points and republicans were in a mood to let them do it – never underestimate the motivational power of an imminent summer vacation.

It was the product of complicated – and completely typical – Beltway horse trading. The bottom line, though, is that the Federal Communications Commission is back up to its full strength of five members with three republicans and two democrats – the privilege of the majority goes to the party that has a president in the white house.

The deal that was reached means that democrat Rosenworcel is confirmed to a full five year term and republican Carr serves out the final year of former chairman Tom Wheeler’s term before getting a shot at five years of his own. Current chairman Ajit Pai, on the other hand, has to wait until senators come back in September before he gets the blessing for another full term on the commission.

Democrats get two perks. First, when Pai’s nomination comes up, it’ll be a full roll call vote, so democrats can properly bash him first. Carr and Rosenworcel, by comparison, slid through in a quick and painless batch vote with a pile of pending nominees for various other federal jobs. Second, when Carr comes around again next summer, he’ll be paired up with democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn or whoever is nominated to replace her, should she not want, or get, a third term. That way, two-party symmetry can be maintained.

Having a full slate of commissioners probably won’t make much of a substantive difference. Carr’s policy outlook seems to be in line with Pai and Michael O’Rielly, his republican brothers, and whether it’s three to two or two to one, it’s still all the majority that’s needed. But Rosenworcel is an intellectual match for Pai, and has worked well with him in the past, sometimes on opposites sides and sometimes not. With her back on board, at least the debate will be improved.