Rockefeller Likely To Top Senate Commerce

Robert Byrd relinquished post as chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee

Robert Byrd announced Friday he was relinquishing his post as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which puts several chairmanships in play, including Senate Commerce, which oversees communications issues.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) will succeed Byrd, subject to a vote the week of Nov. 17 by the Democratic caucus. There are several possible succession scenario at Commerce, the most likely Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), but including fairness doctrine fan John Kerry (D-MA) and an even bigger critic of the media, Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

“When the 111th Senate commences work in January, Senator Daniel Inouye will be the new Chairman of the Appropriations Committee," said Senate majority leader Harry Reid Friday. "There is no question that Senator Byrd’s decision was eased by the knowledge that the gavel will continue to be in such capable hands," said Reid.

The House Commerce Committee Chairmanship is already in play, with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) challenging John Dingell (D-MI), though Dingell has built a team of legislators to round up the votes needed to keep the chairmanship 

Inouye has said he wanted the appropriations post, which he is next in line for, but not at the expense of trying to unseat Byrd, who is the Dean of the Senate in much the same way Dingell claims the honorary title in the House. But Byrd's cleared the way for Inouye.

Inouye's move would put Jay Rockefeller as next in line in seniority to claim the top spot on the Commerce. Rockefeller has been chairman of the Intelligence committee, but according to a Hill watcher he has made it clear he would want Commerce if the job opened up.

Look for an even more active committee under Rockefeller, said the source, and perhaps the creation of a Telecom subcommittee mirroring the one in the House, and idea Rockefeller has raised.

Rockefeller would likely be more interested in TV content, having backed a bill to give the FCC the power to regulate TV violence and to give it express authority to regulate fleeting profanities, an issue argued in the Supreme Court this week.

If for some Reason Rockefeller stayed atop the Intelligence Committe, Commerce would go to media critic and fairness doctrine fan John Kerry, atop commerce. If Kerry was named Secretary of State in an Obama administration, as he is said to have pushed for, and Rockefeller stayed put, the chairmanship would go to Dorgan, who has been a fierce critic of media consolidation, even employing a little-used legislative gambit to block the FCC after it agreed to loosen newspaper-broadcast crossownership limits.

The Senate Commerce Committee leadership has seen its share of changes at the top, including the removal of former Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and replacement by Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) as ranking member after Stevens was charged, and ultimately convicted, of failing to report work done on his House by a company with business before his committee.