Landrieu Lifts Hold on FCC Nominee

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Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) agreed to stop blocking the Federal Communications Commission nomination of Robert McDowell after the White House agreed to spend more money on cleaning up Gulf Coast regions damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Landrieu communications director Adam Sharp said the senator lifted her hold late Tuesday when the White House agreed to seek $2.2 billion in funding to help reconstruct levees that prevent storm flooding.

Since early April, Landrieu had been pressuring the White House to seek $4.1 billion. But Sharp said the $2.2 billion commitment was sufficient progress to persuade Landrieu to allow McDowell’s nomination to advance to the Senate floor. “As they gave some ground, we did, too,” he added.

McDowell, a Washington, D.C.-based telecommunications lawyer, was nominated in an effort to give Republicans a 3-2 majority at the FCC. The Senate Commerce Committee approved him in March shortly after a quick hearing. But his nomination has become a pawn in a post-Katrina funding dispute.

“This is great news that Sen. Landrieu has lifted her hold. We hope Mr. McDowell can move through the Senate and be confirmed and begin his important work at the FCC,” a spokesman for Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) said Thursday.

Landrieu’s move does not mean McDowell’s nomination has been cleared for a vote. It is possible that other senators are blocking him.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has reportedly placed a hold on McDowell related to universal-service funding. Rockefeller’s office is neither confirming nor denying those reports.

Each senator may block presidential nominations without cause, and he or she can do so anonymously. Often, it takes a supermajority -- 60 votes -- to overcome obstructionist maneuvers in the 100-member upper chamber.

Since last March, the FCC has been evenly divided 2-2 between Republicans and Democrats, hindering chairman Kevin Martin's ability to advance an agenda and process media and telecommunications mergers.

As a result of the commission's political paralysis, the $16.9 billion acquisition of Adelphia Communications Corp. by Time Warner Inc. and Comcast Corp. has languished for 327 days (as of Thursday) -- a period of time involving a cable merger that does not have a recent precedent.

In late January, the Federal Trade Commission, where Republicans hold a one-vote majority, approved the Adelphia transaction without conditions.

A few weeks ago, Time Warner chairman and CEO Richard Parsons said he was hoping that a Republican majority would emerge at the FCC before the agency acted on the Adelphia deal. A split FCC would give Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein the leverage to attach conditions to the cable deal, which involves the sale of 5 million subscribers.

Adelphia merger opponents, including public-interest groups and DirecTV Inc., have asked the commission to ban Comcast and Time Warner from obtaining exclusive access to regional sports networks.

Stevens and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) recently sent the FCC a letter raising several programming-related concerns regarding the Adelphia transaction.

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