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House Will Try Again to Delay Digital TV Transition

Remember that dreary day in social studies when the topic was “How a bill becomes law?” Congress is trying to reenact all those steps — in what in Washington considers rapid time — to make sure that no one is denied their beloved television shows.

If nothing happens, current law will force all television stations to stop broadcasting their analog signals on Feb. 17, leaving those without cable, satellite, a late-model television or a converter box without access to over-the-air broadcasts.

At the request of the Obama administration, Democrats tried to move the switch-off date to June 12. They used a procedural shortcut that required a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives, a mark they didn’t achieve when nearly all the Republicans voted against the bill last week.

Now for the speed round. Last Thursday, the Senate voted unanimously for a nearly identical bill. It will be taken up, briefly, by the House Energy and Commerce committee Tuesday, and it is scheduled for a vote by the full House Wednesday. Passage is likely, as the bill now only needs a simple majority, and the vote last week was 258 to 168 in favor.

By some reports, the bill will be brought to a vote using a procedure meant to make it difficult to amend. As you learned in social studies, if the bill isn’t changed in the House, it doesn’t need to go back to the Senate and can head right to the White House.

Just to make sure that House members understand the stakes, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the energy and commerce panel, and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the communications subcommittee, published a list of how many people in each congressional district are on the waiting list for $40 coupons to help them buy converter boxes. (The money for the coupons ran out at the end of last year.)

Of all the districts, the most last-minute coupon requesters (8,511) are in the seventh district in Indiana, represented by Andre Carson, a Democrat.

Another 6,527 people are waiting for coupons in the sixth district of Texas. They may not get much help, however, from their representative: He’s Joe Barton, the ranking minority member on the House Energy and Commerce panel, who spearheaded the Republican opposition to the digital TV delay.