WASHINGTON, Nov. 24 — President Bush and Senate Republicans on Monday night settled their long-running dispute over media ownership rules, eliminating a major stumbling block to Congressional approval of a $330 billion catch-all spending measure covering a third of all federal programs.
Despite the agreement, which came in the face of a White House veto threat, House and Senate aides said it was unlikely that Congress would pass the larger spending measure before adjourning for the year.
|Editors Note from FreePress
If this story turns out to be true, the Congressionally negotiated "39% solution" to the "35% or 45% national viewership cap" represents the worst from of magical-miracle-flexible-spine-based legislation. To be perfectly frank, if one were trying to find the bottom of the Stupid Barrel, this comes pretty close to not only plumbing the depths but giving a within-microns-accurate depiction of its contours.
Let's examine the net effect this legislation will have. If the FCC rules are allowed to stand with only this slight modification, newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership remains unaddressed: in many markets one company will be able to own the monopoly town newspaper as well as at least one broadcast television station. It is safe to say 'at least one' because also remaining unaddressed is the 'duopoly' rule, which, in certain size markets, will allow this one company to own two or three broadcast television networks. 'Certain size markets' would bestow some degree of comfort if these 'certain size markets' didn't encompass over 95% of the US population.
Add in the ability to own the monopoly cable company as well as eight radio stations in these markets (also allowed) and this "39% solution" just loosened the ropes enough for large media firms to continue building their empires at the expense of truly local viewpoints.
The "39% solution" is no arbitrary figure: it prevents the largest media companies from being forced to divest any holdings. According to today's Wall Street Journal (see this story), CBS (owned by Viacom) sits at 38.8%. Fox (owned by News Corporation) is at 37.8%.
The take home message: nothing substantive has changed. If Congress were worried about the range of debate in the media, they chose to ignore the new FCC rules which had the most bearing on it. In fact, they made it even that little bit easier for already huge media firms to control more of the public discourse in Your Town, USA.
And so it goes: Big Media is given even more slack to become bigger and Congress will call it a victory for democracy. Large communications corporations will continue to pour in huge campaign contributions to their favorite lawmakers, the average voter will honestly believe that their Congress stood up for them, and everyone is blissfully happy that the wrong side won. The Stupid Barrel turns out to be a lot deeper than we thought. -RN
Postscript add: Latest information seems to be that Democrats are objecting to bringing up this bill. It will likely be revisited in January - so there is still hope that this language will be stripped.
"It would take a miracle," one Senate Republican aide said.
Congressional negotiators were still at an impasse Monday night over a provision that would ease federal reporting requirements for gun buyers. Also at issue was how to trim more than $4 billion from the various spending bills, to keep total discretionary spending to $785 billion next year.
The dispute over media ownership rules revolved around a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to allow the major networks to extend their reach by owning television stations reaching 45 percent of the nation's audiences. Congress wanted to roll the rule back to 35 percent, but House and Senate aides said the deal struck Monday sets the figure at 39 percent.
The agreement provoked immediate criticism Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, who told reporters that the 35 percent provision "had strong bipartisan support, and to reopen it now is unacceptable."
For much of the day, the White House veto threat left lawmakers sounding exasperated. Appropriators, who have been struggling for weeks to wrap up work on the bill, had already eliminated two other provisions to which President Bush objects, one to block new overtime rules proposed and another granting exemptions to a White House initiative that encourages the private sector to compete for federal jobs.
"I think they've had a pretty good run here," Senator Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican and a member of his party's leadership, said of the White House. "They've had a lot of success and I guess my advice would be if you win 99 out of 100, you should declare victory."
Congress has already passed, and President Bush has signed into law, an emergency spending measure that will keep the government running until Jan. 31. But the failure to pass appropriations measures this year would prove an embarrassment for the Republican leaders of the House and Senate, who have repeatedly criticized Democrats for failing to pass spending bills last year.
"The appropriations process is in perhaps the worst condition it has been in years," said Mr. Daschle, who was the target of much of last year's Republican criticism. He called the impasse "a real indication of the breakdown that has come about as a result of the mismanagement of the appropriations process."
Passing appropriations bills is the most basic duty of Congress, and often the most contentious. Each year, lawmakers must pass 13 separate spending measures to keep the government running. So far this year, six of those bills have been adopted and signed into law by President Bush. The remaining seven have been rolled into the omnibus, bill, which would cover spending for a slew of federal agencies, including the departments of Commerce, Justice, State, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs.
If the bill is to have any chance of getting passed, House appropriators must formally file it on Tuesday; House Republican aides said Monday night they intend to do so. At that point, the Senate could use a maneuver before it adjourns this week to deem the bill passed once the House votes on it. The House is now in recess and not scheduled to return to Washington until Dec. 8.
But such a maneuver would require the unanimous consent of the Senate, and Democrats said they are likely to object. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said he, too, would object. "I don't want to deem anything," he said, complaining that he had not seen the details of the bill. "I think I ought to be allowed my chance to amend and debate."
The Bush administration also opposed language in the bill that would grant exemptions to the White House's "competitive outsourcing" initiative, an effort to allow the private sector to compete for certain federal jobs. The provision was withdrawn during weekend negotiations.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company