Senate Panel Backs 35% Cap

Some Republicans believe Bush would not veto measure

Congress last week took a step closer to a possible confrontation with President Bush over media concentration with the Senate Appropriations Committee's vote to reinstate the 35% cap on one company's TV-household reach.

The provision, tucked into a funding bill for the FCC and Commerce, Justice and State Departments, mirrors legislation passed by the House in July that Bush Administration aides threatened to veto.

The bill now must go to the floor for a vote by the full Senate and then its differences with the House version rectified in conference before heading to the president's desk.

Some key senators and congressional aides said last week they believe the White House veto threat is losing steam.

"The 35% cap would no longer cause a veto in my opinion," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Many in Congress have questioned whether President Bush would risk letting Democrats paint him as a tool of media conglomerates if he vetoed the bill.

Still, one Capitol Hill aide said Congress needs to move forward on a separate track in case the networks appeal the stay and win. "Just because the court has issued the stay is no reason for Congress to think the issue has been taken out of our hands," said an aide to Sen. Ernest Hollings, a sponsor of the measure.

The appropriations measure would be in effect only for fiscal 2004 and would need to be renewed next year to remain law.

To avoid a lengthy battle like the one House Appropriations Committee members fought over additional FCC rule changes in their bill, the Senate committee members agreed to wait until the bill goes to the floor to push additional measures. For instance, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), plans to fight for a ban on local broadcast/newspaper crossownership.