Party switch wreaks havoc on Hill

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The Senate Wednesday was gearing up for a Thursday announcement that Sen.
James Jeffords (R-Vt.) would leave the Republican Party, leaving the Senate
under Democratic control.

The senator's impending switch is causing chaos on Capitol Hill, as Democrats
prepare to take back one of the houses they lost in the so-called Republican
Revolution of 1994.

For the media and telecommunications industries, the most immediate impact
will be the return of Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) as chairman of the Senate
Commerce Committee. The regulatory Hollings chaired the committee from 1987
through 1994.

Current committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Wednesday that he
didn't expect much to change should the committee change hands. 'He and I get
along on all of the issues,' McCain said.

Hollings opposes deregulating broadcast ownership, he wants to retain the ban
on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership and he would like to limit violent TV to
late hours.

Hollings will also control the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, which
allocates funds to the Federal Communications Commission, so the lawmaker will
have a great deal of influence over the workings of the FCC.

In a recent Senate hearing, Hollings challenged FCC chairman Michael Powell,
calling ineffective Powell's plan to increase fines on incumbent phone companies
for violating provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Powell was also
pressed by Senate Democrats Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Max Cleland (Ga.), who worry
about increasing media consolidation.

Republicans are working hard to convince Georgia Democrat Zell Miller to come
over to their side, which would restore the Senate's 50-50 balance, but that
looks unlikely. 'I am a Democrat,' Miller told reporters.

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