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Resolution May Face Showdown

Sep 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Proponents of a Senate resolution to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership deregulation were threatening to force a vote in the House of Representatives on the issue last week-if House GOP leaders refuse to bring the measure to the House floor on their own.

A parliamentary showdown over a House vote would appear to be in the cards because the Senate approved the resolution in a 55-40 vote last week.

Under standard legislative operating procedures, the resolution is now supposed to go to the House floor for a vote. But House GOP leaders-led by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana-have vowed to try to prevent their House colleagues from voting on the resolution.

“Dead on arrival,” said Rep. DeLay at a press briefing last week, referring to the Senate resolution’s prospects in the House.

However, proponents of the Senate resolution are threatening to do an end run around House leaders, employing a rarely used “discharge petition,” a parliamentary device that if signed by a majority of the congressmen would force a vote on a similar House resolution.

Sources also said that Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., volunteered to introduce the resolution needed in the House.

In addition, Rep. Hinchey was asking House colleagues to sign a letter urging House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to schedule a vote on the Senate resolution.

“The Senate has taken decisive action to maintain protections of public interest in the media ownership rules,” Rep. Hinchey said. “We in the House should be given the opportunity to do the same.”

Also last week, watchdog group representatives were vowing to turn up the PR heat to encourage the public’s support for a vote in the House.

“We will keep pushing,” said Chellie Pingree, president and CEO of Common Cause, which announced that it had collected more than 50,000 signatures on a petition urging President Bush not to veto rollback legislation.

At least some watchdog group representatives were also advocating targeting in their home districts lawmakers who have been fighting the rollback effort, including Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, and Rep. Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We’re going to bring hurricane-force winds to bear on the House,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “We intend to make people like Billy Tauzin and Fred Upton pay back home for acting as the big networks’ defense fund.”

Assuming the Senate resolution receives a House vote, its ultimate prospects remain uncertain. Last week’s Senate vote fell short of the 67 votes needed to overturn a threatened presidential veto.

But the House and Senate Appropriations Committee have already approved hard-to-veto appropriations legislation that would overturn one of the FCC’s media ownership decisions for one year: a ruling to raise the cap on national TV station ownership from a reach of 35 percent to a reach of 45 percent of the nation’s homes.

Unlike the appropriations legislation, the Senate resolution would overturn all of the FCC’s June 2 deregulation, including a provision clearing the way for broadcasters to buy daily newspapers in their markets. Another pending Senate bill targets the national ownership cap and the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban.

The resolution’s approval was also a blow to Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell, the architect of the FCC’s deregulation.

In a statement, Mr. Powell said the Senate resolution would bring “chaos” to media regulation, re-imposing rules that have been overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

“I hope the House will take a more considered view of the public interest,” Mr. Powell said.

“Based on today’s vote, there clearly is not enough support in the Senate to override a threatened presidential veto,” added Rep. Tauzin, reconfirming his opposition to a rollback.

But Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who fought the efforts of the agency’s Republican majority to loosen the media ownership rules, said the Senate vote demonstrated that the deregulation had been wrong.

“The commission should heed the call and act now to reconsider its decision to allow even more media concentration,” Mr. Copps said.

Added Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., “Next time, Chairman Powell should conduct the proceeding in a way that includes more public hearings and a healthier respect for the public interest values of localism and diversity.”

In still another blow to the FCC last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia rejected a network request to turn legal challenges to the FCC rules over to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

Fox, Viacom and NBC petitioned the court, which stayed the FCC’s new rules, to transfer the case to the D.C. circuit, a court that has made clear its preference for deregulation.

The networks, with the support of the FCC, argued that the Washington appeals court should hear the case because it has ruled on media ownership issues previously and has expertise on FCC matters.

But in a 2-1 decision written by Judge Julio Fuentes, the Philadelphia court ruled that the case would be decided in the City of Brotherly Love.

“The D.C. circuit court simply instructed the FCC to justify its rules on media ownership with an eye to the public interest,” said Judge Fuentes. “This court is no less qualified than any other court of appeals to determine whether the FCC has appropriately considered the public interest in its decision-making.”

Oral arguments have been scheduled for Nov. 5.