Byron Dorgan was pumped. He was all set to unleash his own personal dog of war, a “disapproval” resolution against all the new, relaxed media ownership rules. He would “veto” the changes in ownership regulations, which were voted for by the Federal Communications Commission on June 2. He felt he had enough supporters to make the great push to get the resolution to the floor of the Senate, thereby creating a second front with another media blitz, keeping the issue of media consolidation on the front burner in Congress and adding pressure on House members to consider reregulation. It was a perfect plan, except for one minor glitch: A senator can only “disapprove” a regulatory agency’s decision after that decision has been formally rendered to the Senate Committee. Apparently, a new FCC staffer deposited the rule package sometime last week, leaving it outside the door of the committee room where cleaning people may have disposed of it. “At least no one called the bomb squad about an unusual package in the hallway,” said a Senate staffer. “I’m going to try again next week,” said Dorgan in an interview with Cable World, “as soon as we officially have the package.” Dorgan (D-N.D.) has been on the Senate Commerce Committee for ten years, has seen the effects of the Telecom Act of 1996 in his state and has become one of the strongest voices against deregulation. At 61, he also knows how to count votes. He needs a plurality of the Commerce Committee to move the disapproval resolution — a rarely used tactic involving an arcane rule under the Congressional Review Act — forward to the Senate floor, or 30 supporters in the full Senate to sign on to get it to a floor vote. “I spent a few minutes this morning with some colleagues and I have ten votes already,” Dorgan said. The effort to undo the FCC’s regs is on two tracks right now — Dorgan himself voted for a bill on June 18 that would take the network ownership cap back to 35%, bar newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership and make Clear Channel divest itself of some radio stations. But that bill’s chances are unclear, and so Dorgan is opening a second beachhead with the disapproval resolution. “I want to restore those rules that were in place prior to June 2,” he said. “We can force an expedited review and force a vote if I have 30 members, and I can get them.” He noted the growing Republican support for restricting ownership among committee members. As for the notion that it’s the Senate’s “fault” that it mandated the FCC’s biennial review, he said vehemently that the federal Appeals Court did not mandate deregulation. “The FCC could just as easily have retained the old rules. They did not have to make bad rules. They just had to justify the old ones — this is not the Senate’s problem,” he said firmly. Asked about Ted Stevens’ (R.-Alaska) amendment to have state public utility commissions decide newspaper cross-ownership issues in small markets — i.e., Alaska — Dorgan just laughed. “I haven’t the foggiest idea” how Stevens intends that to work, Dorgan said. But overall, Dorgan’s set on blocking cross-ownership and lowering the network cap, either through the pending bill or the disapproval resolution. “It’s all I’m focused on,” he said.

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