Senators to fight FCC turn

Pols work to retain old national cap of 35%

WASHINGTON — Minutes after the FCC made its sweeping changes to media ownership rules official, a bipartisan group of senators vowed to sink them.

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) gathered Monday with reporters on Capitol Hill to demonstrate their distaste for the new rules and their determination to undo them.

“The FCC’s decision is not the final word,” Dorgan said. “We are very intent on trying to legislate in this area.”

“I’m very disappointed with the way the FCC handled it,” added Lott. “I do think this was a mistake.”

For the first time, Dorgan, an outspoken opponent of the FCC’s media ownership review, noted that Congress has the power to overturn the actions of independent agencies via a seldom-used “legislative veto.”

If passed in the House and Senate, that device would automatically overturn the FCC’s new rules. Lott, Hollings and Dorgan, as well as Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), are also pushing a bill to retain the old national cap, which limits one company from owning TV stations that serve 35% of the national audience. (The FCC raised the cap to 45% Monday.)

So far, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Commerce Committee, has been reluctant to interfere with the actions of an independent agency.

While McCain has not signed onto the bill restoring the 35% cap, he has told colleagues he would not block it, and is prepared to hold hearings on the issue if there is enough interest.

Wednesday will provide a good barometer when all five commissioners will appear before the Senate Commerce panel and the Republicans will be forced to defend their work.