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Democrats Fold on 39% TV-Cap Fight

The Democratic-led filibuster blocking the 39% TV-ownership cap lasted just one day into the 2004 congressional session, which began this week. Leaders from both parties Wednesday reached a deal allowing passage before lawmakers leave Washington for the weekend.

Democratic leaders Tuesday blocked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s effort to end debate on the massive spending bill containing the new limit but the looming threat of unfunded government operations forced them to back down the next day.

Before adjournment of the 2003 session they vowed to force the bill to be renegotiated. Democrats and a few Republicans are mad that veto threats led congressional leaders to accept White House rewrites of major provisions, including a higher national television-ownership cap.

The appropriations bill, now expected to be approved Thursday, would cap the national reach of one company’s stations at 39% of television homes.

Sen. John McCain, one of the Republicans opposing the package, spent nearly an hour on the Senate floor Wednesday attacking the bill as a pork-laden budget buster.

He said the new ownership cap is a prize for CBS and Fox, which would have to sell TV stations if the original 35% limit was enacted. "Why did they pick 39%? So these two conglomerates could be grandfathered."