GOP may scale back probe of pop culture

Lott promises to put a vote on the Senate floor

WASHINGTON — Faced with stiff resistance from Senate Democrats, Republicans are poised to downgrade a proposed Special Committee on American Culture to a task force without subpoena powers.

Many angry Democrats want to scuttle the whole proposed inquiry, but Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has begun lobbying hard for some formal review of popular culture.

“This is not a witch hunt,” Lott told reporters after an aborted Senate Rules Committee meeting Wednesday. Lott, like other senators at Wednesday’s meeting, noted that concern about popular culture has spiked in several major polls. “There is a problem there and we ought to give some serious thought to it.”

In addition to its inability to subpoena documents and witnesses, another major difference between a task force and a special Senate committee is that the task force will be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Sam Brownback, (R-Kan.) had hoped to be a chairman of a special panel with a Republican majority.

Opponents of Brownback’s effort to create a special committee pointed out that there is already a Federal Trade Commission inquiry that is looking at the marketing practices of Hollywood. In addition, President Clinton has authorized the office of the surgeon general to examine the impact of violent entertainment on kids. Also, the Senate is considering proposals, as part of a pending Juvenile Justice Bill, that would create a national commission on youth violence.

Lott insisted that the Senate could not wait for various commissions and investigations to reach their own conclusions. “None of that will get done for months,” he said. If a final compromise is not worked out, the lawmaker promised to put the Special Committee on American Culture to a vote on the Senate floor.

Recording Industry Assn. of America prexy Hilary Rosen predicted Wednesday that a compromise would be reached. But she also said the issue of creating a panel on culture should never have been raised in the first place.

“There is proposal after proposal,” Rosen said. “It might just be that these are issues are more complex … and that there are no neat political fixes.”

News that Brownback was pushing for a special committee was greeted with anger by some Democrats. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) described his party’s reaction to this news as “explosive.”

Democrats, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), want the impact of guns to be included in the task force’s purview. Republicans are generally resistant to the inclusion of guns as part of the inquiry, but Brownback said Wednesday that he would be willing to include them in the discussion, depending on the “framework.”