Washington -- House Commerce Committee chairman Tom Bliley
(R-Va.) is running for re-election despite rules that force him to yield his gavel if he
wins and Republicans retain House control.
In 1995, the newly installed House GOP leadership adopted
rules limiting committee chairmen to six years, requiring Bliley to decide in 2000 whether
to retire at age 68 or to seek another term shorn of his control over legislation that
affects the cable, broadcast and telephone industries.
"He is running," said Ray Allen Jr.,
Bliley's chief political consultant.
Bliley's plans drew attention when incumbent Reps.
Herbert H. Bateman (R-Va.) and Owen Pickett (D-Va.) announced their retirements over the
past two weeks.
Tyler Whitley, a political reporter for the Richmond
Times-Dispatch, said Bliley recently held a fund-raising breakfast attended by House
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
Bliley, he added, has been telling local audiences that he
expects to be named chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee as a consolation
for stepping down as full committee chairman.
Allen said the Hastert breakfast raised about $200,000, and
Bliley expects to add to his war chest in May at a fund-raiser sponsored by corporate
Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), current chairman of the House
Telecommunications Subcommittee, expects a challenge from Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) in the
contest to replace Bliley. The loser of the Tauzin-Oxley race would evidently be unable to
claim the Telecommunications Subcommittee chairmanship over Bliley.
The outcome of the Tauzin-Oxley race is important to the
cable industry. Tauzin has sponsored cable-regulation legislation, as well as the law
(when he was a Democrat in 1992) that required cable operators to sell their programming
Tauzin is sponsoring a bill (H.R. 2420) that would free the
Baby Bells from long-distance restrictions in the provision of data services to consumers
and businesses, but that would not require cable operators to open their facilities to
third-party Internet-service providers.
Oxley has not supported cable-regulation measures. But
before passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, he did sponsor a bill that called
for lifting the ban on telephone-company entry into the cable business inside their local
Republicans hold a slender five-vote majority in the House.
In the event that Democrats retake control, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is expected to
become House Commerce Committee chairman, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) to become House
Telecommunications Subcommittee chairman.