Biz hooked on Jeffords’ jump

WASHINGTON — Hollywood lobbyists are generally unflappable. New president in the White House? No biggie, we’ve got our ducks in a row. New topper at the Federal Communications Commission? That’s OK, we’re used to change.

Thus, it was quite a sight to watch lobbyists reeling in incredulous wonder last week at the Democrats’ stunning coup in the U.S. Senate. So much for calm, cool and collected.

“It’s nothing short of a revolution,” one TV net exec gushes.

Vermont Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) made the chaos possible by announcing he would bolt the Republican party and become an independent, giving control of the Senate to gleeful Democrats.

Turns out the White House played a bit dirty with Jeffords after pol balked at President Bush’s tax plan.

For Hollywood, shift in power means the Dems will be put in charge of key panels overseeing the entertainment industry, chiefly the Commerce and Judiciary committees.

It is considered a given that Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) will replace Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as head of Commerce.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is likely to step in and take over Judiciary from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), although there’s some speculation that Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) might make a bid for the gavel.

There’s little doubt that Hollywood lobbyists will have to refocus some of their energy in terms of which pols they woo, and how often.

At the same time, these lobbyists say many of the issues facing entertainment/media companies can’t be divided along party lines, hence the switch won’t be cataclysmic.

Both Democrats and Republicans love on occasion to bash Hollywood for media violence; likewise, copyright isn’t normally a partisan issue.

One issue that could be impacted by the switch is deregulation of the media/entertainment industries. Republicans are historically pro-deregulation, while Dems are more suspicious about mega-consolidation.

As commerce chair, Hollings is likely to give more audience to opponents of deregulation.

When the actual switch in power takes effect is somewhat uncertain. Jeffords said he will wait until the president’s tax bill is passed out of Congress.

Late last week, McCain raced against the clock to get Bush’s three nominees to the Federal Communications Commission confirmed before the switch in power. Incoming FCC topper Michael Powell’s name is among the bunch, even though he’s already in power.

Nominees were never controversial or in danger because of the upset in the Senate; rather, McCain didn’t want a holdup because of the bureaucratic nightmare that is likely to ensue in the coming days.

FCC nominees are Republicans Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin, who will join Powell to form a 3-2 majority at the reg agency. Democrat Michael Copps is Bush’s third FCC pick.

Most immediately, lobbyists expect three upcoming hearings on the entertainment industry to be postponed. On June 12, McCain had scheduled a hearing on media consolidation and ownership; June 13, media violence; and June 14, sports rights.

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