GOP scrambles on veto strategy

Rules say Viacom, News Corp. must sell some stations

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are struggling to find enough lawmakers willing to support a presidential veto of legislation overturning new media ownership rules.

Before leaving town for the August recess at the end of last week, the House added language to a spending bill that would tighten new FCC regs and could wind up forcing Viacom and News Corp. to sell off some of their TV stations. Should the Senate take similar action and the legislation wind up on President Bush’s desk, his aides have said they would recommend a veto.

A week and a half ago, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) set out to shore up support for the administration by asking his colleagues to sign a letter pledging to vote to sustain a Bush veto. So far, Cannon aides said they have gathered 90 signatures and promises from several other lawmakers to add their names as well.

Ideally, Cannon would like to round up 146 signatures, the number necessary to sustain a presidential veto if every member is present. To sustain the veto, opponents of the legislation need only find one-third plus one of their colleagues who show up for work that day, in either house of Congress, willing to support the president.

In early September, the Senate is expected to take up similar legislation aimed at overturning portions of the FCC media ownership regs, and there is strong support for at least a partial rollback.

Cannon aides said while they have yet to reach the magic 146 number, they are not discouraged, as they still have more than a month to press their colleagues and come up with the necessary signatures.

“We wanted to gather as many signatures as possible before members left town,” Cannon spokeswoman Meghan Riding said. “But more signatures are coming in all the time, and we have all of August to work on it.”