Cable foes say veto override possible

Cable industry foes are claiming that an override of President Bush’s expected veto of re-regulation legislation is within reach, barring a last-minute shift of key lawmakers to the cable side.

Bush–who has never had a veto overridden–has until midnight Saturday to either sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law by taking no action. He has repeatedly pledged to veto the legislation, but in an unusual twist, the mayor of Jefferson City, Mo., said yesterday she has been contacted by the White House about the possibility of participating in a bill-signing ceremony if Bush changes his mind.

Mayor Louise Gardner told Daily Variety she has had several discussions in the last month with White House staffers about cable reregulation, and about the possibility of Bush signing the bill. The most recent call came from the White House on “Monday or Tuesday,” she said.

During that discussion, Gardner said a White House staffer indicated that Bush still intended to veto the legislation, but that there was also talk of holding a bill-signing ceremony in Jefferson City.

Gardner, a Republican who spoke at last month’s GOP convention in Houston, said she hopes Bush ends up signing the bill. She strongly criticized the cable service delivered to her constituents by TeleCommunications Inc.–the nation’s largest cable multiple-system operator.

Jefferson City residents have had “large rates thrust upon us, poor service and poor programming,” said Gardner. “I support the president, but I represent my constituents, and local people call my office constantly to complain.”

Supporters of cable re-regulation were discounting reports that Bush might actually sign the bill, although they were making sure the report was circulated among undecided lawmakers in hopes that it would undercut White House efforts to sustain a veto.

The National Cable Television Assn. also dismissed the possibility that Bush would backtrack on his veto pledge. “We have no reason to believe he will not veto this bill,” said spokeswoman Peggy Laramie.

Officially, the White House was declining comment. “I’ve not heard that report,” said a White House aide.

Meanwhile, Greg Chapados, the White House’s top telecommunications adviser, said yesterday it is an “uphill battle” finding enough lawmakers to uphold Bush’s expected veto. But, he said, it is “not undoable.”

The cable rereg bill passed the House and Senate last month in veto-proof votes of 280-128 and 74-25, respectively. A two-thirds margin in both houses is needed to override a veto.

White House efforts to kill the bill have been focused on the Senate, where nine Republicans are needed to switch their votes from yes to no. Sources said that a group of GOP senators was called to the White House this week for face-to-face meetings with Bush, but that the arm-twisting has not yet yielded the desired results.

Even cable re-reg opponents on Capitol Hill are not sure how the vote will turn out. “It’s going to be tight,” said a GOP staff aide who is fighting to derail the bill.

Lawmakers who could ultimately decide the fate of the cable bill include Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.).

Congressional offices reported yesterday the cable bill lobbying battle has reached an intensity rarely seen on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t remember ever seeing a lobbying effort this heavy,” said an aideto Thurmond. (Thurmond, who supported the bill earlier, is now “considering the matter” and has not made up his mind, per the aide.)

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