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TV-Cap Rollback Moves Toward Weekend Vote

Both houses of Congress are expected to approve rolling back the national TV-ownership cap to 35% of TV households as part of a catch-all spending bill lawmakers are trying to wrap up before Thanksgiving break. Supporters of the roll back declared victory over their leaders and the White House after negotiators from both sides of Capitol Hill Wednesday night agreed to retain their provision.

The decision is a win for the National Association of Broadcasters and network affiliates because they fear a higher cap will hand the major broadcast nets more power to dictate terms of affiliation contracts.

Majority leaders from both houses are under the gun to get a vote and agreed to retain the rollback after Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a foe of media deregulation, promised not to push a separate measure reversing an FCC decision allowing media companies to own broadcast stations and newspapers in the same market.

President Bush has threatened to veto any legislation that would reverse the FCC’s recent broadcast deregulation. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had angled to eliminate the national cap roll back, which has been inserted into the spending bill by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Ark.), Dorgan and others on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Dorgan and his allies predict Bush won’t veto the omnibus spending bill over the FCC provision, but that doesn’t mean the issue is dead quite yet. Industry sources say Bush will try to pry the rollback out of the bill up until the moment the package is ready for final votes of Congress. But Stevens discounted that prospect. "Right now, in this process, it’s the final word," he told reporters Wednesday.

He also could veto the overall bill because of an unrelated provision that rewrites new overtime pay rules. The entire bill could collapse because of disputes between lawmakers over funding for some government programs, as well.