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When the Federal Communications Commission in June eased limits on media company mergers, congressional Democrats and consumer advocates led a spirited campaign to overturn some of the most controversial of the new rules. Ironic, then, that it is a prominent Senate Democrat who could unwittingly sabotage this effort just as it is about to succeed. This turn of events also illustrates the Byzantine politics and competing legislative priorities that often dictate the fate of federal regulations. In this case the politics surfaced when Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., staged a nine-hour filibuster of a Commerce-Justice-State spending bill to protest a plan by Republicans to hold 30 hours of debate on Democratic opposition to White House judicial nominations. Lawmakers were poised to add several amendments that would restore the media ownership restrictions to pre-June levels. But Reid’s action effectively deprives legislators of a chance to attach the riders, which had bipartisan support in the Senate, to the CJS bill. That’s because the CJS legislation is likely to be folded into a broad omnibus bill that cannot easily be amended to include the media provisions. The upshot? The bulk of the media rules are safe for now. “The likelihood of successfully getting those amendments through before a filibuster was not a certainty, and now the chances of getting any more policy-related amendments attached is less likely to occur because there is less time,” said Tom Davidson, partner at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Time is exactly what opponents of the FCC’s media rewrite do not have. Lawmakers are preparing the omnibus bill for action tomorrow. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., wants to complete the year-end appropriations package by Nov. 21. Sens. Trent Lott, R-Miss., Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and other lawmakers had planned to amend the CJS spending bill to include language restoring an FCC ban on companies owning a newspaper and television station in the same city. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., recently said he is considering adding other measures to the spending bill, including new restrictions on radio ownership. For example, one proposed amendment could force Clear Channel Communications Inc. of San Antonio, the country’s largest radio operator, to divest stations. Now these lawmakers are unlikely to have a chance to introduce these amendments. One provision that targets the new FCC rules is likely to survive even if the CJS legislation is rolled into an omnibus measure. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, continues to defend an amendment that would effectively prohibit the FCC from implementing a rule that would raise from 35 percent to 45 percent the number of U.S. households a TV company may serve. This cap, if restored to the lower threshold, would require media conglomerates such as Viacom Inc. and News Corp. to divest broadcast outlets. President Bush has pledged to veto any spending bill that contains the so-called Stevens-Hollings amendment. On a separate front, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers led by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., continue to champion a so-called legislative veto that would void the media rules and restore tighter broadcast and newspaper ownership limits. The Senate already has enacted the veto. Already, 205 House members have sent a letter urging Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., to allow representatives to vote on the veto. To override opposition from House leaders, 218 lawmakers must sign a petition discharging the House Commerce Committee from its review of the veto. �Copyright 2003, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved.

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