FCC chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday called for Congress to give his agency the authority to conduct voluntary incentive auctions that would free up spectrum for broadband bandwidth.

Genachowski, in his annual CES address, cited broad bipartisan support for the auctions but noted some countering proposals stand in the way of getting authorization.

“We need to get it done now and we need to get it done right,” he told the CES crowd in Las Vegas. “The cost of tying our hands could be devastating in the fast-moving global economy.”

Proceeds from the spectrum would be split between companies like the broadcasters that own the spectrum and the U.S. Treasury.What’s at stake, according to Genachowski, is the health of the U.S. economy. Moreover, the U.S. risks falling behind in the global race to provide broadband at levels that can compete with other nations. While Europe pulled ahead of the U.S. on 3G technology, the U.S. has built up an early lead in 4G that it risks losing.

On a consumer level, the companies behind the flood of smartphones and tablets in the marketplace could be “swamped by an ocean of demand” if a spectrum crunch kicks in.

On the subject of unlicensed spectrum, Genachowski challenged the notion that it wouldn’t provide compensation to the Treasury. “It doesn’t give money into the Treasury coffers up front but new businesses that generate hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue are generating significant tax revenues over time,” he noted.

In a Q&A with CEA president Gary Shapiro following his keynote address, Genachowski cited the New York market, where 28 different TV stations are utilizing spectrum that could be put to use for broadband.

“No one can name 28 stations in New York and no one thinks that’s the right number,” said Genachowski. “The wonderful thing about the incentive auction is the market will decide.”

Congress is expected to make a decision on authorizing the FCC to hold incentive auctions by March 1.