Say Hello to the New Boss

Happy 114th Congress! On January 6th, the new Congress was sworn into office. Just who are these people are what will they do to impact our communications future? Well, we’re glad you asked.

Most notable, this is the most diverse Congress ever. The new Congress is comprised of 430 men and a record 104 women. There are 46 black lawmakers in the new Congress, also a record. Rep Mia Love (R-UT) is the first black Republican woman in Congress. Hispanic lawmakers number 33, with 30 in the House and three senators. Twelve Asian-Americans will also serve, with 11 in the House and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in the upper chamber. There are two lawmakers of Native American ancestry, both from Oklahoma, Reps. Tom Cole (R-OK) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK).

The 114th Congress is, obviously, more Republican. Overall, 56 percent of all Members of Congress are Republican (300 members) and 43 percent Democratic (232 members). In the House, Republicans currently hold 246 seats compared to 188 for Democrats (in the 133th Congress, the margin was 234-201). Importantly, Republicans take over the majority of the Senate in 2015 with 54 seats. Democrats hold 44 seats in the Senate and two Independents caucus with the Democrats. The Hill reports that new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has identified six “go-to centrists” to break potential Democratic filibusters: Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN); and Angus King (I-ME). In addition, Republicans might also turn to Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) although they are viewed as less-likely partners. These 10 senators will help determine how “bi-partisan” the 114th Congress will be.

Does age matter? Lawmakers have an average age of 57. The Senate is older than the House, with an average age of 61 to the lower chamber's 57. Democrats on average are older than Republicans in both chambers, at 62 to 60 in the Senate and 59 to 54 in the House. Morley Winograd and Michael Hais write, “During the past two decades, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) first shaped and eventually dominated both the way Congress operates and its output, or lack thereof. Given their numbers and the traits that characterize many Boomers, the cohort can be expected to continue its Congressional ascendancy for the next decade or more. During that period Congress is likely to behave pretty much as it has during this century.” Boomers have made up a majority of the House of Representatives since 1998 and the Senate since 2000. In the 114th Congress, Boomers will comprise nearly two-thirds of the members of both the House (63%) and the Senate (62%).

Unfortunately, the primary political output of the divided Baby Boomers has been frustrating gridlock and historically low evaluations of congressional performance. Winograd and Hais note that generational analysts have labeled Baby Boomers as “Idealist” meaning they have strongly-held personal values. There’s nothing wrong with that until, well, you work in institutions that require compromise and coalition-building to get things done – AND Boomers, like many Idealist generations before them, are also deeply divided about what values are right and which are wrong.

Congress is swinging to a period when political inexperience is the predominant characteristic from a period when age was the key demographic. There are 71 new Members of Congress as we begin 2015. The Wall Street Journal notes that the new Members of Congress tend to be younger and have less legislative experience. The Senate’s 13 new members will join 33 others who have served less than one six-year term, the highest total since 1981. In the House, roughly half of all lawmakers will have been in office only since the 2008 election, meaning that their main political experience is the politics of polarization.

The 2014 midterm was the third anti-incumbent election in the past four cycles. For party leadership, this means managing members who are seen -- and see themselves -- as outsiders in an institution that works on tradition and seniority. Frequently untested in their ability to build coalitions in a politicized environment while operating on a highly scrutinized national stage, the new group faces the question of whether they can adapt to a tradition-bound institution or whether they will push the institution itself to change.

The New House Commerce Committee

The Commerce Committee is the oldest standing legislative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and is vested with the broadest jurisdiction of any congressional authorizing committee. Today it has responsibility for the nation's telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health research, environmental quality, energy policy, and interstate and foreign commerce. It oversees multiple cabinet-level Departments and independent agencies, including the Department of Commerce, and the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission.

The 2014 elections left the Republican leadership in the Commerce Committee mainly untouched: Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI),61, Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), 62, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), 57, and Subcommittee Vice Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH), 58. Rep Michael Burgess (R-TX), 64, will chair the Committee’s Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee, given the November loss of previous chairman Lee Terry (R-NE).

For Democrats, there are bigger changes in 2015: Ranking Member (and former Chairman) Henry Waxman retired; Rep Frank Pallone (D-NJ), 63, is now the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee. Pallone isn’t a ‘telecom guy’ – his focus has mainly been on health and he was instrumental in passage of the Affordable Care Act. His main rival for the position was Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA), 72, who was backed by Silicon Valley’s tech industry. She will continue as the Ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

On January 13, the House Commerce Committee will hold its formal organizational meeting for the 114th Congress. The Committee will adopt its rules, welcome new members and officially enshrine leadership, create its subcommittees and markup the Committee Oversight Plan. It is in that oversight plan that we start to see the Committee’s telecommunications agenda: a telecommunications law rewrite; the operations of the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and FirstNet (which is charged with building the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety); Internet governance; cybersecurity; privacy and data security; spectrum management; and broadband availability.

The Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee has been collecting input to set the stage for an update to the Communications Act. Chairmen Walden, Upton and supporters highlight that the primary body of law regulating the communications and technology industries was passed in 1934 (Communications Act of 1934) and while updated periodically, it has not been modernized in 19 years (Telecommunications Act of 1996). Changes in technology and the rate at which they are occurring warrant an examination of whether, and how, communications law can be rationalized to address the 21st century communications landscape. For this reason, the committee initiated an examination of the regulation of the communications industry, and offers this opportunity for comment from all interested parties on the future of the law.

The House Commerce Committee is made up of 31 Republicans and 23 Democrats. The Communications and Technology Subcommittee, where work on a Communications Update will start, is comprised of 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

There are 10 new Republican members on the committee:

  • Rep Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), 51, was first elected to Congress in 2006, succeeding his father, Michael, who had held the seat for 24 years. New to the Communications subcommittee, Rep Bilirakis says updating the Communications Act is top priority, according to Communications Daily.
  • Rep Susan Brooks (R-IN), 54, is starting her 2nd term in Congress. Brooks is not on the Communications subcommittee. She chaired the Homeland Security Committee’s Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications Subcommittee, where she delved into issues of cybersecurity and the progress of FirstNet.
  • Rep Larry Bucshon (R-IN), 52, was a heart surgeon before he joined Congress in 2011.
  • Rep Chris Collins (R-NY), 64, is new to the Communications subcommittee. He hopes to promote the spread of broadband Internet service in rural areas. He noted that the government currently overestimates how broadly that service is offered, saying he hopes to correct that problem. That subcommittee also will look at refreshing the 1996 communications law that set the stage for the Internet boom of recent decades. “I want to make sure that smaller areas, like my rural district, are not disadvantaged” as that legislation is drawn up, he said.
  • Rep Kevin Cramer (R-ND),53, is starting his second term in Congress. A former state GOP chairman and social conservative, he ran for North Dakota’s at-large seat three times before 2012 and won that election despite failing to receive the state party’s backing. Previously, Cramer served as one of North Dakota’s public service commissioners, helping to oversee an energy-driven boom in the state economy. “In this subcommittee we have the opportunity to bring the Telecommunications Act into the 21st century by addressing issues including broadband deployment and Universal Service Fund reform, while looking out for rural telephone cooperatives and their customers. I intend to put my experience regulating telecommunications as a North Dakota Public Service Commissioner to use,” Cramer said.
  • Rep Bill Flores (R-TX), 60, begins his third term in the House, as the Chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC). The RSC is an influential group of House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative economic and social agenda in the House of Representatives. Flores’ background is in the energy industry; he’s the former CEO of Phoenix Exploration, an oil and natural gas exploration company.
  • Rep Rich Hudson (R-NC), 43, is starting his second term. When named to the Commerce Committee, he said his priorities would be “to cut federal spending, replace Obamacare with a healthcare system that puts patients first, and go after all sources of American energy in order to lower costs for everyone and put people back to work.”
  • Rep Bill Johnson (R-OH), 60, is beginning his 3rd term in office. Johnson served in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years before retiring and beginning his private sector information technology (IT) career. He cofounded Johnson-Schley Management Group, an IT consulting company. In 2003 he left Johnson-Schley to form J2 Business Solutions, where he focused on providing executive level IT support as a defense contractor to the U.S. military. From 2006 through 2010, Johnson served as Chief Information Officer of a global manufacturer of highly engineered electronic components for the transportation industry headquartered in Northeast Ohio. Johnson will serve on the Communications subcommittee and is looking “forward to putting my 30 years of IT experience to work on the many important policies the committee will be undertaking -- starting with the modernization of the outdated Communications Act,” he told Communications Daily. “I’ll also be focused on connectivity challenges in rural areas like those I serve in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, as well as how the government can ensure that spectrum is used as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
  • Rep Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), originally a plumber not named Joe, is a second term Congressman at age 37. He sits on three Commerce subcommittees: the Subcommittee on Energy and Power; the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade; and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. His priorities are “reforming our burdensome regulatory system, and implementing ideas that will lead to American energy independence.”
  • Rep Pete Olson (R-TX), 52, first joined Congress in 2009. After serving in the U.S. Navy including a stint as a naval liaison officer to the U.S. Senate, Olsen became a legislative aide to Sen Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Chief of Staff for Sen John Cornyn (R-TX). Rep Olsen told Communications Daily that a Communications Act rewrite is a priority “to ensure we have a communications law that works in the 21st Century and protects the privacy of individuals.”

The Commerce Committee also has five new Democrats:

  • Rep Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), 51, was first elected to Congress in 2012. He is a career politician having previously served in the California State Assembly and the Los Angeles City Council. Rep Cárdenas’ priorities are health care, manufacturing, trade and the environment, but he is also concerned about the diversity of voices and opportunities in the entertainment marketplace.
  • Rep Yvette Clarke (D-NY), 50, has made cybersecurity a priority, co-sponsoring a cybersecurity workforce bill that was passed by the House in 2014, but died in the Senate.
  • Rep Joseph Kennedy (D-MA), 34, succeeded Rep Barney Frank in 2013. He will serve on Commerce’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade; Health; and Oversight and Investigations.
  • Rep David Loebsack (D-IA), 63, is a former professor of political science who has served in Congress since 2007. Loebsack will serve on the Communications and Energy subcommittees.
  • Rep Kurt Schrader (D-OR), 63, was first elected to Congress in 2008. Communications Daily notes that he was one of a handful of Democrats to join Republicans in 2011 in a controversial Congressional Review Act vote to attempt to kill the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality rules. But net neutrality is now one of the highlighted issues on Schrader’s website: “I want to assure you I unequivocally support an ‘Open Internet.’ What I do not support is any attempt to stifle communication of information or access to legal websites and content by an internet service provider (ISP). In the case that an ISP is found to be participating in such behavior, I support the FCC’s ability to investigate and take action against the offending parties.” He says he believes in the four Open Internet principles adopted under Kevin Martin’s FCC. And he concludes, “I have communicated my concerns regarding an overly burdensome regulatory regime to the FCC and I will closely monitor the progress of the Commission’s actions as they continue to debate these very important issues.”

The Really New Senate Commerce Committee

The 2014 elections flipped the leadership in all the Senate Committees. The Senate Commerce Committee will now be chaired by Sen John Thune (R-SD), 54. On January 8, he announced there will be six subcommittees including the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet which will be chaired by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), 63. With the retirement of Sen Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee will be Sen Bill Nelson (D-FL), 72.

For some months, Chairman Thune has indicated he’s committed to passing legislation to update U.S. communications law. "[S]ome people may think a Communications Act update is an impossible task in today’s political environment and that Congress should not even bother to try," he said in a speech to the Free State Foundation. "I reject that pessimistic view. The voters did not send us to Washington, D.C. to sit on our hands and resign ourselves to failure. They sent us here to make a difference."

Chairman Thune has also stated strongly that the FCC should not reclassify broadband Internet access under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. "Neither Title II nor section 706 of the Telecom Act are appropriate tools to regulate the Internet," he said. "The former is outdated and politically corrosive. The latter is legally untested and potentially far too broad. When Congress wrote both provisions, it never expected or intended for either to apply to a dynamic and competitive broadband marketplace. Because of this, any Internet regulations issued by the FCC based on either statute will be tied up in courts for years, thus creating more uncertainty for businesses and end users, not less. The only way to provide the certainty that ISPs, edge providers, content publishers, and end users need and want is for Congress to legislate. My colleagues and I need to roll up our sleeves and figure out how best to promote an open, competitive, and free Internet."

With the FCC targeting adoption of new net neutrality on February 26, Chairman Thune has been indicating he’d like to see Congressional action before the FCC acts. That splits him from many in Congress, including Ranking Member Nelson, who would like to see what the FCC does first before introducing, no less voting on any bill.

Like its House counterpart, the Senate Commerce Committee is welcoming a number of new members.

  • Sen Steve Daines (R-MT), 52, is new to the Senate after a two-year stint in the U.S. House. He was an executive at Procter & Gamble and, later, RightNow Technologies, a cloud-based software company that developed customer relationship management software for enterprise organizations. In the House, Daines served on the Homeland Security, Natural Resources, and Transportation Committees.
  • Sen Cory Gardner (R-CO), 40, is joining the Senate after four years in the U.S. House. He’s a career politician having first been appointed to the Colorado State House of Representatives in 2005. In the U.S. House, he served on the Commerce Committee and the Communications subcommittee. Politico reported after the November elections that Gardner is a supporter of his fellow Republicans’ efforts to update the Communications Act. While in the House, he was a co-sponsor of Rep. Steve Scalise’s (R-LA) bill to reform retransmission negotiations between broadcasters and cable and satellite TV companies. He took aim at broadcasters in an interview on C-SPAN’s "The Communicators" back in July, saying they shouldn’t have “the great advantage they have now, which often results in blackouts.”
  • Sen Jerry Moran (R-KS), 60, was first elected to the Senate in 2010 after serving in the U.S. House for 14 years. Moran was elected Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in November 2012 and oversaw Republicans winning a Senate majority for the first time since 2006. When named to the Commerce Committee, Moran said he would “work to provide valuable oversight on a wide range of issues including communications, highways, aviation, rail, shipping, transportation security, fisheries, science, space, interstate commerce and numerous others.”
  • Sen Dan Sullivan (R-AK), 50, is joining Congress for the first time. Previously, he served the state as Alaska’s Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner. He also has over 20 years of military service. From 2006 to January 2009, Sullivan served in the Bush Administration as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There are three Democrats new to the Commerce Committee:

  • Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV), 67, was the governor of West Virginia from 2005 to 2010. When named to the Commerce Committee in December 2014, Manchin said his priority would be making sure we continue to “invest in advanced technology and communications infrastructure.”
  • Sen Tom Udall (D-NM), 66, is beginning his second term in the Senate. Udall is returning to the Commerce Committee and when the appointment was announced said, “We are … at a critical point in the expansion of broadband Internet, which is vital for small business, education and health care, particularly in rural communities. I intend to use my position to step up the fight to ensure every community in New Mexico has high-speed Internet access.” He also touted his experience preventing cell phone ‘bill shock.'
  • Sen Gary Peters (D-MI), 56, is joining the Senate after six years in the U.S. House and seven in the Michigan State Senate. For over 20 years, Peters was a financial advisor and then, briefly, worked at Central Michigan University. In the House, Peters served on the Financial Services Committee. In July 2014, Peter wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in support of strong, Title II-based net neutrality rules.


Like Charlie Brown making another run at kicking the football, we always hold out hope that this Congress (or the next Congress) will work together to get the people's work done. But with a presidential election on many politicians minds, don't hold your breath -- 2017 is a long way away.

We'll see you next week in the Headlines.

By Kevin Taglang.