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Jeffords switch sparks power shift

Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) said he would become an independent on Thursday morning, shifting the balance of power in the U.S. Senate to Democratic hands.

The change does not officially take effect until President George W. Bush signs a tax-cut bill into law. Both the House and the Senate have passed versions of the bill, which must be reconciled between the two bodies. The switch gives Democrats complete control of the Senate, nullifying the power-sharing agreement that existed when the body was split evenly 50-50. Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) becomes chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has authority over media and communications industries.

Industry sources say the committee isn't likely to be much different under Hollings, because he and soon-to-be former chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) already had a successful bipartisan approach to running the committee. The difference will be that Hollings can control what hearings the committee holds. Hollings also can bring up legislation for consideration within the committee whenever he wants, but for the most part he could that when McCain was chairman.

One of the first issues likely to get a hearing with Hollings in the chairman's seat is TV violence. A hearing on that issue was tentatively scheduled for the second week in June, sources said. During that same week, sources say the committee had planned to look at media ownership and migration of sports programming from free to pay-TV, but what will happen with all those hearings is uncertain. - Paige Albiniak