House socks the FCC


The House of Representatives used the FCC as a political punching bag last week. First, members cut the budget of one of the agency's key offices as part of a larger spending bill. Then, a Commerce subcommittee passed a bill that would severely restrict the agency's authority to review mergers.

Last Monday, the House passed a measure that sets the budgets of the Commerce, Justice and State Departments and related agencies. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) successfully added language to the bill that reduces the budget of the FCC's Office of Media Relations-which has 17 staffers, according to Stearns' count-to $640,000 for FY2001, down from 2000's $1.1 million.

Overall, the House funded the FCC at $207 million for next year, which is $29 million less than President Clinton requested. The Senate still has to consider the spending bill.

Last Tuesday, the House Telecommunications Subcommittee passed a bill that would require the FCC to complete most merger reviews within 90 days. Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) added language that would limit the FCC's role in lobbying members of Congress, which replicates a stand-alone bill he introduced two weeks ago. Then, Stearns added language that would require any conditions the FCC might append to one merger approval to be applied across the merging companies' entire industry.

Stearns' amendment effectively would keep the FCC from adding any subjective conditions in the name of the public interest and would limit its merger authority to a simple approval or denial, according to a counsel for the House Commerce Committee.