Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chairman Obey, Chief Architect of Stimulus Package to Retire

What Will Departure of Senior Democratic Appropriator Mean for Ongoing Telecom Capital Subsidies? 05/05/05 San Francisco - Congressman David R. Obey (D-WI-07), Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and lead sponsor of the $787 billion Stimulus Bill of 2009 is retiring. First elected in 1969, Obey will not seek election this year in what most analysts see as an increasingly difficult election cycle for congressional Democrats.  As the U.S. telecom sector seeks continued federal capital subsidies for broadband in unserved areas, the departure of Obey makes that goal difficult.

Dave Obey campaigning in his WI 7th district during the
2008 election cycle. Photo: Superior Broadcast Network
Politico's Breaking News
News of a pending statement from Obey announcing his retirement will most likely "come as early as" today, according Senior Congressional Reporter David Rogers who broke the story on within the past 30 minutes.

As of this first posting, both the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, paper of record for Wisconsin, and the Wausau Daily Herald, largest paper in Obey's rural northwestern Wisconsin district, are both citing the Politico story with no confirmation from local sources.

Obey Press Conference
As Rogers predicted, Chairman Obey announced his retirement in a Washington press conference today.  Feisty as always, CNN reports that the Chair of "Approps" responded to a question about his electoral viability saying, "Let me put it this way -- I have won 25 elections." "Does anybody really think I don't know how to win another one? Or, for that matter, has anyone ever seen me walk away from a fight in my life?"

"The fact is there isn't a chance of a snowball in Hades of that progressive congressional district electing someone who is a poor imitation of George Bush's policies on a bad day." Obey was referring to the leading Republican challenger in the current cycle, Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy.   

Obey is a proud and unreconstructed liberal, with deep roots in the progressive political tradition of his home state.  His native Wisconsin 7th congressional district, historically one of the state's most liberal outside of the Democratic strongholds of Madison and Milwaukee, today looks increasingly like a challenge for the 20 term incumbent.

A strong supporter of President Obama, Obey has nonetheless been a vocal critic of the the Administration's military buildup in Afghanistan.  Similarly, he pointedly stated at multiple times that the President should have pushed for a higher level of stimulus appropriations.  In the video clip below, Obey says as much will introducing the House - Senate compromise that would become the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).    

Why Does It Matter to the U.S. Telecom Sector?
Why should the U.S. telecom industry and those tracking the impacts of federal subsidies on the sector care about the retirement of a Member of Congress from rural Wisconsin?
Chairman David R. 'Dave' Obey was instrumental in hammering out the provisions of the stimulus package, including the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus provisions of the bill.  Obey largely deferred to fellow senior Democrat Ed Markey (D-MA-07) on the nuts and bolts of the broadband stimulus funding line items, and the form of the National Broadband Plan which was also authorized by the legislation.

To the extent that further federal capital subsidies for rural broadband may be inserted by congressional leaders into the 2012 Farm Bill, or elsewhere, the senior players on House Appropriations matter.  With all 150 awards of Round 1 of the broadband stimulus portion of the Recovery Act now announced, and funding Round 2 now underway, the program's $7.2 billion will be expended over the next 36 months.

With the retirement of Obey, continued funding streams greater than those of the legacy USDA programs for the rural broadband agenda are now far more of an open question.  Equally at stake is the fate of potential new capital subsidy funds for urban underserved areas of the nation which are today seen in the BTOP program of NTIA within ARRA.  Even if Democrats maintain control of both houses of Congress, the rural - urban political compromise reflected in the 2 separate agency programs (Agriculture and Commerce), and negotiated by Obey, is less likely to be held together in his absence. 
Obey Brings Final ARRA Bill to the Floor
Here, in a speech taped by C-SPAN from the House floor of February 13, 2009, Obey argues for the House - Senate compromise of H.R. 1.  Four days later ARRA was signed by the President, with Dave Obey's name on it. 
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