Rep. Larry Bucshon On Congress And Ensuring U.S. Leadership On-Chain

When the 118th Congress started last year, blockchain-related legislation was focused on digital assets and financial industry applications – i.e. crypto. Yet, slowly but surely, legislation related to the blockchain emerged on the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee with special focus on how the technology can provide unique opportunity to American business and its supply chains.

Among those leading the E&C charge has been Rep. Larry Bucshon (R, IN), who recently announced his retirement after 14 years in Congress.

Congressman Bucshon introduced a supply chain resiliency bill at a September Energy & Commerce hearing which would establish the “National Blockchain Promotion and Deployment Program” at the Department of Commerce.

Post-hearing, two bipartisan bills came about with co-sponsor Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D, DE):

    • Deploying American Blockchains Act [H.R. 6572]” – “To direct the Secretary of Commerce to take actions necessary and appropriate to promote the competitiveness of the United States related to the deployment, use, application, and competitiveness of blockchain technology or other distributed ledger technology, and for other purposes.”
    • Promoting Resilient Supply Chains Act [H.R. 6571]” – “To establish a critical supply chain resiliency and crisis response program in the Department of Commerce, and to secure American leadership in deploying emerging technologies, and for other purposes.”

The bills passed unanimously passed during a December E&C markup which sent them to the House floor for a still-pending vote.

Rep. Bucshon spoke with blockchain tipsheet today at the Capitol to discuss his views on blockchain technology, legislation and Congress.

Topics included:

    • Congress today
    • E&C technology policy
    • Two blockchain bills
    • House floor vote possibilities
    • Bipartisanship and divided government
    • Educating Members
    • Importance of Congressional staff
    • The role of Industry
    • Senate and making law

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

blockchain tipsheet: How’s it going in Congress today? Seems a bit challenging right now…

Rep. Bucshon: It’s challenging on some of the big ticket items like the border and energy policy and things like that. But as it relates to technology policy and where we’re going on things like privacy and blockchain, I think you’re seeing a lot of people on both sides now that are pretty together. There’s nuanced differences -but I do think people recognize that America needs to lead. And specifically as it relates to blockchain and the technology space. On Energy and Commerce there’s been a lot of common ground to be found.

As we begin, I don’t want to omit that you’ve decided to retire after this term. You’ve had a distinguished career on The Hill for 14 years. What do you think you will miss the most in the halls of Congress?

The people. Congress is a small club, right? And you have one of 435 people in the House that represent, together, 330 million people. …so, the camaraderie and the people and I’m gonna miss working with all my staff. I like the day-to-day interaction with people and trying to craft policy.

Of course, I will miss being in [my home] district and going around to each county and seeing what people do every day – touring businesses, talking to people. You get a really good understanding of your community and your state when you have the ability – like I do – to do those types of things. That’s again -the people.

Diving deeper into the technology space and blockchain, how did your legislative journey with blockchain begin?

It starts with the House Energy & Commerce Committee – the Committee is looking at this type of subject – and because I’m on the Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce, which addresses this area. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D, DE) on the Democrat side had an interest in this, too.

So, is there a view on technology, generally speaking, from your Republican caucus and/or the House Energy & Commerce Committee?

Yes, and I think it’s multi-pronged.

As a member of Congress, you think about these things as it relates to national security issues. Where are we technologically in order to help protect our country? Geopolitically-speaking, that means whether some of our adversaries are getting ahead of us as it relates to the ability to infiltrate or hack our technology. From that perspective, Members of Congress right now are very interested in cybersecurity.

And then from a privacy perspective, other countries [such as those represented by the] European Union have GDPR to protect people’s privacy. Some U.S. states have developed something similar – such as California, which is the most prominent in that area. There’s a really strong interest in trying to craft a national data privacy or online privacy legislation.

And then, another prong is simply innovation. We want the U.S. to lead in innovation.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, I read an interview with former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates where he said – technology-wise – we’re just at “the tip of the iceberg.” Now, we’re at the tip of another technological iceberg with things like blockchain and AI. There’s a lot of interest in Congress in these areas.

Overall, the main issue is making sure that the United States is leading. And that countries like China aren’t getting ahead of us because we’re, for the most part, benevolent. We develop technology and we use it in a benevolent way. That’s not necessarily true of some of our adversaries. So we want to be out ahead of that.

Turning to your Deploying American Blockchains Act and the Promoting Resilient Supply Chains Act with Rep. Blunt Rochester, why are these bills important?

The Deploying American Blockchains Act and the Promoting Resilient Supply Chains Act – both – are important because of what we saw during COVID -particularly with the potential utilization tracking, supply chain management and to help identify authenticity… to identify and make sure things are accurate and true.

At a macro level, there are a lot of potential uses for blockchain, too, such as enabling fan and loyalty programs with sports teams or benefits like early access to tickets and so on…. or tracking foreign aid to combat corruption and ensure that resources end up where NGOs, or the government, intends them to -since blockchain records can be transparent and verifiable and contain history of the transactions…

So with this legislation, we want to make sure that the federal government is out ahead of it and make sure the government develops policies and recommendations related to the use and application of blockchain tech. And we want to make the Department of Commerce is engaged in that. And, we want to help advise the President pertaining to the deployment, use and application of blockchain technologies.

As I said earlier, it’s in the interest of Congress for the U.S. to be leaders in this technology space on both the governmental and non-governmental levels.

What are the next steps for those two bills? Will there be a House floor vote?

We’re hoping so. For example, with “Deploying American Blockchains Act” [H.R. 6572], it passed with a 46-0 vote in the Committee markup in December. And, in general, the committee is looking at legislation that can be passed on the House floor primarily through what’s called a “suspension. vote,” which is non-controversial bills that don’t have to go through a rules committee. They can just be brought to the floor and, if you get a two-thirds majority, they pass.

So the next path would be for the Committee to get these bills on the suspension calendar in order to get them passed out of the House.

How much is educating members of Congress an important requirement before a vote on the House floor?

Yes, it’s important. First of all, fundamentally, you should understand what you’re voting “for” or “against.” But second of all, you want to institutionalize these bills so that people understand the importance of them and so Members can discuss and spread the message across the country about the importance of why this is being done.

Noting your work with Congresswoman Blunt Rochester, how important is bipartisanship in House Energy and Commerce?

If you want to have the best chance of getting something signed into law, in divided government, you have to have bipartisan support. You can pass things partisan… We could make these bills unacceptable to my friends on the other side of the aisle. And they could do the same. But either way, a partisan bill would have zero chance of actually being signed into law.

Members like myself and Ms. Blunt Rochester actually want something to be signed into law. The committee staff and our offices have to work together to find language that accomplishes the goal that we want and is acceptable to both sides. And you see that when you get unanimous votes in committee.

Just thinking about your constituency, why should these two blockchain bills matter to your constituency back in Indiana?

We talked about it earlier from national security perspective and data privacy perspectives and so on. Even though day-to-day, most people won’t recognize the importance of these bills, they will if something nefarious happens to them. So, these types of technology bills are an ongoing process to make sure that my constituents are protected online and their national security interests are protected. And to make sure that people understand they can use technology and not not be fearful that they’re going to have nefarious things happen to them.

In creating the legislation, another part of your community is congressional staff. What’s the importance of congressional staff in the creation of legislation such as these two bills?

Well, it’s critically important… because the staff do most of the work. [laughs] The Members of Congress have thoughts and ideas and then we go through a process – whether at the committee level where the committee staff comes up with ideas or individual offices do. Then, the next step in the process is to get with your staff that deals with that particular area of policy and have them submit ideas to Legislative Counsel that writes up bills – and also reach out to the potential stakeholders and see what their thoughts are. You can’t do any of this without the staff.

What can industry do more of – or do better – as it relates to blockchain-related legislation such as this?

Industry generally gives technical advice and assistance on all kinds of legislation to make sure that what we’re trying to do, from their perspective, accomplishes the goal we’re trying to accomplish.

And industry also has input if you’re trying to create something that that gives more authority to a federal agency that may impact their business. They want to be able to have that input and say, “OK, well, if you do this, here’s the downside” or “Here’s the positive things that might happen.” So, technical assistance and advice from stakeholders is really important.

But if you do something that a certain industry doesn’t support – that message gets around Capitol Hill quickly. And that’s like saying, “We’re doing this and nobody else is going to support it, and it has no chance of actually becoming law.”

Regarding your two bills and the possibility of “law,” is there a path forward in the Senate and then a signature from the White House? 

I mean… you have to get the Senate to be interested. And that’s a challenge sometimes. At this point, we don’t have a Senate companion. And we work on that as does the E&C Committee through the members of the Senate committees of jurisdiction.

When you have something that comes out of committee over in the House with unanimous support, and particularly if we do a suspension vote and it’s unanimous, you have a pretty good chance on the Senate side that you’re going to be able to get a Senator that’s on a committee of jurisdiction who will take notice. And then you need to get them interested.

Sometimes though, you just need to get the leadership interested in the Senate and they may take up the House bill and move it without a Senate companion… so, we’ll see.