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Feature: Senate Moves to Kill

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9/12/00

Congress is back "at work" in Washington, and the radio broadcast lobby has intensified its effort to kill the FCC's new low power FM (LPFM) proposal through legislation.

It's been nearly a half-year since the National Association of Broadcasters, conspiring with National Public Radio and others, convinced the House of Representatives to pass a bill drastically gutting the LPFM plan.

Since then, getting action in the Senate has been less successful. The original bill the NAB's Senate puppets introduced, S. 2068, lost steam after gathering 36 cosponsors.

But on September 8, Minnesota Senator Rod Grams introduced a new "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000" (S. 3020) - this bill is identical to the language passed by the House of Representatives in April.

Grams is selling his Act as a 'compromise' piece of legislation to Senators still sitting on the fence straddling the issue - the arrogance of the move comes as an insult to those who fought so hard against the NAB lobby in the House earlier this year.

Unfortunately, with 36 Senators already committed to killing LPFM, and another five already lined up behind Grams' 'compromise,' the total number of Senators now aligned with the broadcast industry is up to 42. This is just 9 short of the number of votes necessary to move anti-LPFM legislation on to the White House.

The NAB's crack lobbying team doesn't plan to play the endgame aboveboard; its chief glad-hander on Capitol Hill, Jim May, recently sent out another "Broadcaster Alert" to station executives nationwide laying out the plans for the killing blow:

"It is clear that our key to solving the LPFM problem legislatively is to have the House-passed bill H.R. 3439 added to one of the appropriations bills that are left to pass this year," May says.

"Indeed, given all the political maneuvering in Washington prior to the November elections, there may only be a few bills that can get signed into law before November. These appropriations bills are the best vehicles for us to move our legislation."

If the anti-LPFM bill gets attached as a piece of pork, it'll make it difficult for Senators to vote against it - and it'll become doubly difficult for the president to veto.

The NAB has also "tested the waters" in all Senators' offices, and has distributed a "position sheet" for its members indicating the way some officially uncommitted Senators may be leaning in support or against anti-LPFM efforts - further targeting its lobbying efforts toward those final votes necessary, assuming the rest are already in its pocket.

Meanwhile, Senators John McCain (AZ) and Bob Kerrey (NE) are regrouping efforts to oppose the NAB.  However, it still involves rallying around a (slightly revised) "alternative bill" which could pose a significant threat to the financial stability of new LPFM stations if it were passed instead.

With Congress and the courts trending away from freedom of speech and access to the airwaves, it's becoming more clear that the only way to see change is to force it - and that means doing it yourself, even if it means going against government grain.  The events of the next month and a half will tell whether the original option remains the best.