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Payroll extension and spectrum auctions don’t mix

The Wall Street Journal reported today that some lawmakers would like to use proceeds from spectrum auctions to pay for portions of the payroll tax extension package. They would like to see some of the bid money going to offsetting the renewal of unemployment benefits and upward adjustments Medicare payments to health care providers.

The irony of the proposal is that some of these same lawmakers wish to draft legislation that would keep large wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon from participating in volunteer incentive auctions where carriers could bid on spectrum licenses given up by broadcasters. Keeping out the large carriers poses two problems.

First, like I’ve blogged about before, keeping out large carriers reduces the chance that spectrum is being put to its best use. Carriers willing and able to pay premium cash for the licenses would be left out.

Second, if you leave out the big guys with the deeper pockets, it means less money being used to offset Medicare payments and jobless benefits.

The notion that Congress would use these monies to fund welfare programs is not sound. Congress, who should be well aware of the limited availability of spectrum, should instead let these funds stay with the Federal Communications Commission. These funds could be used to leverage incentives for deploying more broadband infrastructure, a much better approach to growing the economy than funding jobless benefits.