The Senate's 55-40 approval Tuesday of a "legislative veto" of the Federal
Communications Commission’s relaxed broadcast-ownership rules did little to show
which side has the upper hand.
The margin of victory was not big enough to override a threatened White House
veto, but it was sufficiently large to gin up hopes of supporters that the House
would take up the proposal.
"This vote demonstrates the power of the grassroots," said Eli Pariser, campaign director for MoveOn.org, a group formed to fight the Clinton
impeachment proceedings that has moved on to new causes. "Millions of people have
contacted Congress to voice their opposition. Now the Senate has demonstrated
that it's listening."
Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps, a foe of the rule changes, agreed.
"In spite of the full-court press of big media, a bipartisan majority of senators
told the FCC it was wrong when it waved the green flag for more media
consolidation," Copps said. "The commission should heed the call and act now to reconsider
its decision to allow even more media concentration."
The networks, on the other hand, said they were encouraged that the margin of
victory was less than the two-thirds necessary to override a threatened White
Supporters of the so-called veto "once talked about getting 70 votes," Fox spokesman Andrew Butcher said. "As more senators learned about this issue, more
joined the side of those who want deregulation."
Added NBC lobbyist Bob Okun: "Today's vote suggests that supporters of free
over-the-air television are starting to prevail."
The networks argued that they won't be able to afford expensive sports, movies
or other high-quality programming unless they can boost profits by buying more
The Senate measure would return the national TV-ownership cap to 35% of
television households. The vote puts Senate approval on using congressional
authority to nullify a new agency rule.
The rarely used tactic -- being led by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Trent
Lott (R-Miss.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) -- may be largely symbolic because House leaders
oppose allowing a companion measure to come to a vote on their side of Capitol
Dorgan, however, hopes the House rank and file will pressure their leaders
into scheduling a vote.
House and FCC supporters of deregulation remain defiant.
"It's time for Congress to move on," said House Commerce Committee chairman
Billy Tauzin (R-La.), noting that the Senate fell well shy of the 67 votes need to
override a veto and earlier House attempts to reinstate several FCC broadcast
rules was defeated.
"I will vigorously resist any attempts to revisit these issues this year," Tauzin added.
FCC chairman Michael Powell said a congressional veto would bring "chaos" to