A group of key senators has agreed on a compromise that could revive a stalled bill to re-regulate the cable television industry, but the legislation still faces several hurdles before it can become law.
Senate leaders on the cable issue yesterday signed off on an agreement struck late Thursday by Sens. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.) and Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.).
The proposal apparently resolved Wirth's objections to language that would have severely restricted the ability of cable operators to make exclusive deals with program producers. The so-called exclusivity issue had been a sticking point in a bill that gives the government new powers to regulate cable television prices and service.
Senate staff members yesterday began work on an agreement to limit debate on the cable bill after the legislators who have shepherded the bill through Congress -- Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and John Danforth (R-Mo.) -- endorsed the Wirth-Gore compromise. The measure could go to the floor by early next week if the rest of the Senate agrees on the debate limit.
However, the bill, a version of which has passed the House, still could be derailed by a presidential veto or pocket veto given the limited time left in Congress's current session. The Bush administration indicated last month it was against the legislation, citing, among other things, its opposition to additional federal regulation of cable rates.
The bill could also be killed in the Senate by legislators loyal to the president, or by opposition to new amendments that are expected to be introduced. Sens. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), for example, are preparing a series of proposals that would toughen and expand the rate-regulation portion of the bill. The nation's telephone companies, which have been seeking permission to provide video service over their lines, could also play a spoiler's role, sources said.
Gore said yesterday "it was too early to tell" if opponents of the bill would be able to hold it up. He added, "The lateness of the legislative calendar means that if a few people convince the president to make trouble for it, that means big trouble."
A spokesman for the cable industry's chief lobby group, the National Cable Television Association, said his organization continues to withhold support for the legislation, although he described the compromise as "a great improvement."