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Congress Takes Swing at Overturning FCC’s Ownership Rules

Mar 30, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Congress gets its first opportunity to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s new media ownership rules this week, and the most likely prospect is that FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin will experience his first rebuff.
The big question isn’t whether the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Wednesday to overturn the FCC’s proposal to let newspapers and broadcasters buy each other in a single city; it’s how far the legislation will get beyond the committee. With 13 co-sponsors, many of them members of the 23-member committee, legislation from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to overturn the FCC action seems pretty likely to move to the Senate floor.
Rarely used authority lets Congress overturn agency rulemakings within 60 congressional workdays after an agency promulgates them, but successfully overturning rulemakings isn’t easy. Reversing the FCC action would require votes by the House and Senate as well as the president’s signature, with the latter being pretty unlikely.
The FCC voted in December to allow newspapers and broadcasters in a single market to buy each other under certain circumstances. While the rules change generally would allow such purchases in top markets and disallow them in lesser markets, it grants the FCC the ability to make exceptions easily.
Mr. Dorgan has called the rules change “arrogant” and “in disregard of the public interest” and introduced a “resolution of disapproval” that is co-sponsored by 13 other senators including Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Barack Obama, D-Ill., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
Mr. Dorgan mounted a similar bid to overturn the FCC in 2003 after former FCC Chairman Michael Powell offered a broad rewrite of FCC ownership rules. The Senate voted to overturn the rule, but the House, then under control of Republicans, never voted on the bill. The rules eventually were overturned by an appellate court. A House vote is more likely this year, but any congressional action could face a presidential veto.

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