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Cantor Exit Could Further Divide Divided Congress

A Congress already divided over hot-button issues could be even further divided.

The jaw-dropping primary loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who had been the presumptive heir to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to a Tea Party-backed challenger (David Brat) who seemingly came out of nowhere could help move the Republican party further to the right.

"For the remainder of this Congress, the House and Senate will become even more divided on hot button issues like net neutrality and media ownership, as Republicans shocked by the Cantor loss retrench to the right," said one veteran Democratic lobbyist.

Another D.C. Hill watcher said it could mean more hostility from the right on government-funded programs like the E-Rate and Lifeline communications subsidies. While it was being billed as a push to the right, some others saw the defeat as a pushback on other issues, including government collection of data.

"Eric Cantor's primary loss to a relatively unknown candidate reflects, at least in part, a transpartisan grassroots rejection of the NSA spying programs that Cantor has staunchly defended," said Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a civil liberties group fighting government surveillance.

Cantor's loss could open up an opportunity for a friend of cable, veteran Communications Subcommittee member Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who has long proposed getting rid of the must-buy tier and scrapping the retransmission consent regime, both of which cable operators would like to see gone, as well as taking a legislative chainsaw to other regs.

Scalise has long been said to be eyeing the whip job, dating from when the scenario was Boehner retiring, Cantor becoming speaker, and current House Majority whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) taking Cantor's leadership post, which he may now resign before he has to exit at the end of the year.

A Scalise spokesperson was not available for comment.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.