FCC could be denied funding

Last week’s Senate amendment—attached to the Commerce, Justice and State departments’ spending bill by Appropriations Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)—would deny the FCC funding to implement a new ownership cap rule allowing networks to buy more stations.

Its language is identical to a rider that Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) attached to a House spending bill that passed overwhelmingly in July. It is expected that Stevens’ amendment will pass the full Senate when the spending bill moves to the floor, probably in late September, because if it were voted down, funding for three key government departments would be denied as well.

Though the Stevens amendment blocks the ownership cap rule, it allows the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule to stand.

A separate tactic, targeted at all the FCC rules changes, is being used by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) He will introduce a rarely used “resolution of disapproval,” a tool that Congress can use to overthrow agency regulations. If passed, it would wipe out all of the FCC’s new ownership rules.

Dorgan said he would wait to schedule the disapproval vote until “our football team running for president” is back and available to vote, referring to Democratic presidential candidates Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.), Bob Graham (Fla.), John Edwards (N.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), all of whom Dorgan hopes will vote for disapproval.

If the resolution of disapproval fails, Dorgan plans to introduce, along with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), an amendment that would restore the ban preventing cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in the same city. Dorgan said he refrained from doing so in the Appropriations Committee because he said he feared it would not pass.

Prior to the House vote on the ownership caps, the White House threatened to veto any final bill that rolled back the FCC rule. That veto threat is the last hope of some FCC supporters to stop the anti FCC wave in Congress.

“Clearly, there will be a showdown” when House-Senate conferees meet to resolve the final bill, said Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, (R-La.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a supporter of the new FCC rules.

However, since the Senate’s provision is identical to one already passed by the full House, it becomes much harder for Tauzin’s supporters to have it removed when the Senate and House merge their differing versions of the broader $34 budget bill. “This will take the FCC provision out of conference,” said Stevens, who carefully constructed the amendment to mirror the House version.

Also, with strong public and congressional sentiment against raising the cap on television ownership, few members of Congress believe Bush will cast his first veto as president on an issue that benefits only a few major media corporations.

“In my heart, I don’t think they would veto this bill” over the caps, Stevens told reporters after the Appropriations panel vote. Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said the administration had not issued a formal statement on the Senate action, but continues “to oppose rolling back the media ownership rules.”

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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