- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday voted to kill media-ownership deregulation passed by the Federal Communications Commission. The new rule, which FCC Chairman Michael Powell guided through a 3-2 vote on June 2, would increase the number of households a television company can reach from 35 percent to 45 percent. Media-ownership caps hurt the competitiveness of companies by restricting their ability to commandeer a sizable enough market to make a healthy operating profit. Raising the limits is progress, in that it helps lessen government control over broadcasting, but it could take White House intervention to save the reform.

Committee members, who voted 40-25 over the opposition of Chairman Bill Young, inserted the provision into the appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice and State. House leaders support the FCC reforms and have squelched other legislation seeking to derail deregulation. In the upper chamber, 35 senators — led by Trent Lott and Kay Bailey Hutchinson with the acquiescence of Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain — are pushing for a joint resolution of both houses of Congress to reject the FCC rule changes. This threat, however, isn’t going anywhere, as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has signaled he won’t allow such a resolution to reach the floor for a vote. Yesterday’s rider in the spending bill does present a problem because the House must authorize the funding for the executive departments. Sources predict that a floor amendment overriding the rider has little chance of success since so many members already acted against the advice of leadership in committee.

Chairman Young warned yesterday that the White House might veto the bill, but such an action to counter a rider on important legislation would be drastic and unlikely. Although the veto threat has not been made by President Bush or his aides, the administration is on the record in support of its man at the FCC. In an April letter to Chairman Powell, Commerce Secretary Don Evans urged passage of the rule changes “on behalf of the Bush administration.” And yesterday, White House spokesman Claire Buchan stated that, “The administration does not support congressional efforts to overturn the FCC’s media-ownership rules. We believe the FCC decision updates the rules to take into account the realities in today’s marketplace.”

Before last night’s statement clarifying the White House’s position, it was getting bandied about on Capitol Hill that some of the president’s senior advisers were less than enthusiastic about loosening ownership restrictions. Short of a veto threat, assuring members of its support was the best way for the administration to pressure the House not to reject deregulation. With the president’s position clear beyond a doubt, House leaders now have a stronger hand to try to pull the provision from the conference report, which is the last chance to save the FCC’s media-ownership reforms in Congress. We think this was a timely White House intervention.

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