Satellite Standoff

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Rep. Adam Smith (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is championing the cause of the commercial satellite industry—removing the spacecraft and related items from the U.S. Munitions List (USML). He managed to secure bipartisan support to include this in the House version of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, in part by adding a mandate for the Obama administration to list the items it wants to remove from the USML. The administration , which is in the midst of overhauling the entire munitions list , sees that reporting requirement as far too onerous.

So, while an end to the lengthy fight to export satellites more freely is in sight, achieving the goal will require plenty of behind-the-scenes negotiation. A House aide calls securing the satellite provision Smith's No. 1 priority for the bill and striking the reporting requirement a near deal-breaker for him. To do both, he will have to convince other leaders of the congressional armed services committees to sign off during conference negotiations on the bill between the House and Senate. Those leaders include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home-state partner in the Senate, John Kyl (R), scuttled last year's effort to untether commercial satellite exports from the USML, and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who co-sponsored Smith 's original bill. The final hurdle will be passing the larger defense policy bill in the Senate. And even though it has passed for more than 50 consecutive years, passage this year remains an open question given the crowded legislative calendar and ongoing gridlock.

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