One of the things the Republicans did when they controlled Congress was to set up a process by which Congress could directly overrule an administrative agency. Called a “Resolution of Disapproval,” it must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President like any other law. But the effect is to wipe away the agency action and restore the status quo to life before the agency action.
In 2003, when the FCC first relaxed the media ownership rules into practical non-existence, Congress was still firmly in Republican control. Mind you, many Republicans also disliked the FCC decision and wanted to see it overruled. Some disliked eliminating ownership limits because they understood that if a few companies control the news and therefore control public opinion, the own you forever. Others only hated the FCC relaxation of ownership rules because their constituents absolutely hated the relaxation of ownership rules and made that clear in no uncertain terms. But the Republican Congressional leadership stood staunchly with the Bush Administration (which backed the FCC’s decision to deregulate) and they prevented it from ever coming to a vote on the floor of the House.
Flash forward to now. Back in December, the FCC voted to relax the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership limit. Senator Dorgan introduced a Resolution of Disapproval back in March. Despite a strongly worded veto threat by the White House, the Senate passed the resolution last night in a near unanimous vote. I say “near unanimous” because it was a voice vote, which means that it is impossible to tell the exact number or who voted how, but that it must have had overwhelming support since no one asked for a roll call vote.
After years of exploiting the politics of fear, the Republicans are learning a politics of fear all their own. It does not matter that this was a Republican FCC, or that the Bush White House is threatening a veto. After two losses within two weeks in “safe” southern districts, the fabled Republican Party discipline is disolving into a mad scramble for the lifeboats. With the public in an ugly mood and conservatives now once again on the receiving end of “media bias,” no one wants to go on record proudly standing by “our beloved Commander and Chief” to defend Rupert Murdoch’s right to own as many newspaper/television combinations as he can grab.
It’s not over yet, of course. Not by a long shot. While I would certainly hope and expect that Pelosi will schedule a vote in the House as soon as possible, I also expect Bush will veto the bill. That would require the House and Senate to vote for an overide, which may prove a harder thing to do — especially once the President and his big media buddies start twisting arms and calling in favors. But while we can’t afford to grow overconfident or assume this fight is won, we can certainly feel both that the momentum is on our side and that we have accomplished something really huge here.
And, in my nasty neurons and snarky receptors, I am savoring the new “Republican politics of fear.”
Stay tuned . . . . .