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Inouye Presses Martin on Recusal Issue

Ranking Senate Commerce Committee member and likely incoming Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) says he, too, is not happy with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's exploration of freeing up Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell to vote on the AT&T/BellSouth merger.

In one of a growing number of letter-writers that has included ranking House Commerce and Telecommunications Subcommittee members John Dingell and Ed Markey, respectively (also future chairs), and more than handful of committee members, Inouye told Martin he was "disappointed" with the move and urged him to "reconsider such drastic action."

Republican House Commerce and Telecommunications Subcommittee chairs, by contrast, support Martin's move and have pushed for a swift vote on the merger.

Inouye argues that an unrecusal of McDowell to break a two-two deadlock on the merger would "short-circuit the negotiation of meaningful conditions that are necessary to preserve competition and to prevent unfair discrimination."

The deadlock is over the commission Democrats' push for such conditions, or looked at from the Democrat side, the Republicans' unwillingness to accept them.

Either way, McDowell is not voting unless the FCC general counsel clears him because his former employer, CompTel, has weighed in on the merger.

Somewhat overstating the case, Inouye tells Martin that he hopes he will "reconsider your decision to waive the ethical rules." Martin has so far asked only for a GC ruling on whether it would be in the government and public interest to allow McDowell to weigh in an break the impasse.

Inouye says he is disturbed that the deadlock is seen as an impasse, pointing out that the Adlephia merger review topped 400 days--the present one is in day 230, according to the FCC. "It is puzzling," he says, "that the commission would conclude so quickly that further negotiations regarding conditions for this merger--which would represent the largest telecommunications merger in our nation's history--are at an impasse."