Senators Promise Perseverance on Rereg


Backers of a Senate resolution to undo the FCC's broadcast deregulation say they will try other legislative options if their measure can't overcome threats of a White House veto and House leaders' hostility to a necessary companion measure on their side of Capitol Hill.

The Senate resolution is scheduled to go to the floor for a vote Tuesday morning.

"This is not the last shot out of the cannon," Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) told reporters last week, implying that measures could later be attached to "must-pass" legislation. "If [the president] vetoes this," said Lott, "the next time it's presented to him, it will be in a great big package with a bow on it."

The resolution would force the FCC to redo its broadcast-ownership rules for the third time in four years.

Debate on the resolution, sponsored by Lott and Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), began last Thursday and will continue Tuesday for an hour before a vote.

"We feel good," Dorgan said about chances for winning Senate approval. Still, his side has secured only 35 of the 51 votes needed. Complicating their effort is the possibility that four Democrats likely to back them are on the presidential campaign trail and might not be in Washington for the vote.

Nevertheless, "we are committed to seeing this thing through," Lott said. "This is not a partisan thing."

Leading the fight against the measure is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Commerce Committee and backer of a bill that would reinstate the 35% cap on national TV-household reach as well as restrictions on local broadcast/newspaper crossownership, TV duopolies, and radio-station ownership. "I share many of the same concerns, but to reject the FCC without further guidance is not appropriate," he said on the Senate floor.

While McCain and Lott are not of the same mind on how to deal with the new FCC rules, both offered surprisingly strong admissions that their past commitments to media deregulation went too far. "I'm not as theoretically pure on deregulation as I used to be," Lott said. After hearing so much public outcry over the FCC rules, McCain said, "The issue is too important to treat so categorically."