Ownership Rollback Rides Through Congress

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill reached an agreement this week to roll back a core provision of the FCC's relaxed media ownership rules.

The provision -- a rider to a larger overall Congressional spending bill -- would limit the national audience-reach of a single company to 35 percent, down from the 45-percent cap approved last summer by the FCC. After months of verbose haggling over the 10-percent differential, members of Congress discovered middle ground Wednesday night, amidst work on the $285-billion spending bill to fund various government agencies, including the FCC.

The rider is the latest attempt by opponents of the relaxed regulation to reverse it. Soon after the FCC adopted the measures last June, the Senate passed a resolution to roll the cap back to 35 percent, but the House didn't follow suit. In the meantime, the din of public objection grew deafening, and consumer lobby groups petitioned the Courts to overturn the relaxed rules. The Third Circuit U.S. Appeals Court in Philadelphia issued a stay in September on the day they were to take affect.

Throughout the struts and frets over the new rules, the White House has vowed to veto any measure to roll the cap back to 35 percent. However, as the Congress nears the holidays and spending matters must be settled to keep the government going, published reports indicate that White House resolve has waned.

As it stands, the ownership cap limit and another rider limiting overtime pay are the primary points of contention on the spending bill. Republican leaders who objected to the ownership cap were reported to be threatening to delay the vote until next year, when Congress reconvenes. Democrats who opposed the overtime proposal were demanding a provision to block it. The agencies awaiting funding from the bill could feasibly be tided over via a temporary measure.