Amid growing pressure from social conservatives, Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) tried to speed tough indecency legislation through Congress — only to fall victim to political reality.
On Tuesday evening, Frist attempted to move to the Senate floor a bill the House approved a year ago sharply upping penalties. Senate indecency legislation has been stalled in the Commerce Committee, overseen by Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Stevens gave his blessing to Frist’s attempt to get a floor vote, but other senators from both parties objected to it and thus blocked it.
Indecency concerns on Capitol Hill almost always cycle up during election years, and Frist is often mentioned as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2008. But Stevens has not allowed any indecency bills to advance through his committee, preferring to see if industry can regulate itself sufficiently. Groups such as the Parents Television Council and American Family Assn., convinced that broadcasters will never regulate themselves satisfactorily, have been stridently criticizing the Senate — particularly Stevens — for not acting on indecency legislation.
Frist’s attempt was almost guaranteed to fail, as it involved a sparingly used parliamentary procedure normally reserved for uncontroversial bills; any member of the Senate could have put a hold on a floor vote. Before moving the House bill to the Senate floor, Frist asked his colleagues if they’d mind. The ensuing objections made it clear that more than one senator would probably place a hold on the vote.
But Frist won some applause for his effort.
“We wholeheartedly praise majority leader Frist for pushing for unanimous consent of this great piece of legislation,” said Lanier Swann, Concerned Women of America’s director of government relations, in a statement issued by the conservative group.
“It will be tough” for Congress to pass an indecency bill this year in light of Frist’s failure and the focus of the Senate Commerce Committee on other legislation, said Paul Gallant, a Stanford Washington Research Group analyst who used to be a senior Federal Communications Commission lawyer.
(Bloomberg News contributed to this report.)