The House Energy and Commerce Committee completed its portion of the budget reconciliation process, voting late on Feb. 12 to transmit the final part of the legislative language it was considering.

After some debate on amendments that would have affected the disbursement of $7.6 billion in E-Rate funding, the committee voted to transmit the section of the bill unchanged. That concluded the markup process and the committee’s work on reconciling the budget to include priorities from President Biden’s proposed American Rescue Act, focused on COVID-19 relief.

“I’m pleased the Energy and Commerce Committee passed bold legislation today that combats the COVID-19 pandemic, provides relief to struggling families, and helps rebuild our economy,” Rep. Frank Pallone, chairman of the committee, said in a Feb. 12 press release. “The Committee’s legislation funds and supports the Biden Administration’s ongoing work to aggressively ramp up the distribution and administration of lifesaving vaccines.”

“We also expand internet connectivity to help bridge the digital divide for students and teachers who do not have access to the internet at home,” Pallone said.

In addition to $7.6 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund for students and teachers, the Energy and Commerce Committee also included $500 million for COVID-19 data tracking and $140 million to the Indian Health Service for IT, telehealth, and electronic health records infrastructure.

An amendment that ultimately failed, but led to some debate, centered around whether having the Federal Communications Commission provide hot spots was the best way to attack the issue.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, would have shifted the $7.6 billion in funding to the National Telecommunications and Information Association to its Rural Broadband Initiative. Opposition to the amendment centered around the amount of time it would take to deploy, which could be up to five years. The amendment was voted down by a 31-25 vote.

After debate closed on the amendments, a vote to finalize the language in the final subtitle passed by voice vote. The committee then voted to transmit the final portion of the bill to the House Budget Committee by a vote of 31-24.

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.