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Lawmakers on Tuesday stepped up pressure on House leaders to consider a legislative veto of controversial federal regulations easing media company mergers. A bipartisan group led by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., said 189 legislators have signed a letter urging House Speaker Dennis Hastert to allow the chamber to vote on provision that would void the media rules, which the Federal Communications Commission adopted June 2, and restore tighter media ownership limits. “These were the most far-reaching and damaging rules ever passed by the FCC,” Hinchey said Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “We believe there is substantial support for this in the House.” Defying a White House veto threat, the Senate in September approved the measure, also known as a resolution of disapproval, which was introduced by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. Eight Republicans have signed the letter, along with 180 Democrats and one Independent. The veto provision remains short of the 218 votes needed for passage in the House. David Kaut, analyst with Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc. in Washington, said it is unclear if the latest congressional strike against the rules is sufficient to derail them. “If they can get a majority to sign the letter, it’s more difficult for Hastert not to bring [the veto] for a vote on the House floor.” Hastert’s office did not return calls requesting comment. Observers said the Illinois Republican likely will delay a decision on the veto until next year. But they noted that lawmakers could take steps to bypass Hastert if he blocks the measure from a full vote in the House, as expected. Hinchey said he plans in January to introduce a so-called discharge petition, which would override opposition from the Speaker to force a vote on the legislative veto. But the odds of such a procedure working are slim. It would require support from a majority of representatives and, because of complex parliamentary procedures, could take a long time to take effect. More important, it would require a substantial number of Republican lawmakers to cross party lines. “Republicans will be more reluctant to support a discharge petition because it is seen as usurping Hastert and other Republican leaders,” Kaut said. But Harold Feld, director of the Media Access Project, a Washington advocacy group, said the widespread opposition to the FCC rules, which critics say will reduce media diversity, could fuel such an uprising. “Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have defied leadership with media ownership issues on several occasions in the House and Senate,” he said. Hinchey and Dorgan said more Republicans would back the measure if it could be brought to the House floor for a vote. “I predict there will be 230 votes in favor of the legislative veto if it could come to the House floor for a vote,” Dorgan said. If approved in the House, the measure would pass to President Bush, who has said he would veto it. But Dorgan dismissed the threat, asserting that Bush would not ignore public concern over the rules. “That’s a lot of hot air,” Dorgan said. “The president wants to say he stands for the public interest, and he will not make this his first veto.” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, also continues his efforts to void one element on the FCC rules. The agency raised to 45 percent the percentage of U.S. households any single TV station owner may serve. Stevens in July attached a provision to a spending bill that would restore the cap to 35 percent. Congressional leaders also have pledged to veto any appropriations bill that includes language to reinstitute the lower threshold. Separately, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said arguments on the rules are scheduled to begin Jan. 21. The Philadelphia court in September issued an order denying a motion by television network operators to transfer a challenge to the FCC rules to the federal appeals court in Washington. The court also in September suspended the rules, which would have taken effect Sept. 4. �Copyright 2003, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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