WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of senators opposed to television networks expanding their reach expressed confidence they had the votes to roll back a rule adopted by communications regulators Monday.
The group said it was pressing ahead with legislation to retain limits keeping a network from owning stations that together reach more than 35 percent of the national audience.
The three Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission voted earlier Monday against their two Democrat colleagues to raise the limit to 45 percent as part of a wider easing of decades-old media ownership rules.
But Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi told a news conference there was no partisanship in Senate opposition to the new cap.
"A lot of Republicans, in fact, probably most of the Republicans in Congress, would not agree with this decision," said Lott, the former Republican leader of the Senate.
Senate Commerce Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said Sunday he opposed the bill to preserve the 35 percent limit and doubted it would pass, but stopped short of saying he would work to block it.
A similar measure in the House has been opposed by Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the FCC, making passage more difficult.
Lott and Sen. Ernest Hollings from South Carolina, the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, both believed McCain would let them have a vote in the Senate committee.
"I'm convinced, just noodling around, that we can get a majority vote and report that out (of committee) and get some action on the floor of the Senate," Hollings told reporters.
Hollings said it was also possible the measure could be attached to an FCC spending bill, making clear no money was to be expended by the agency on the 45 percent cap rule.
The Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on media ownership where all five FCC commissioners are due to testify.
Meanwhile, two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed "serious reservations" about the FCC decision and said future media mergers should get close scrutiny from antitrust regulators at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission.
Sens. Mike DeWine, a Republican from Ohio, and Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, issued a joint statement saying the agencies should "stand guard to prevent deals which will substantially injure competition in these industries that are so vital in providing the news and information relied upon by millions of Americans."
DeWine and Kohl are the chairman and ranking Democrat on the panel's antitrust subcommittee, and they said they plan to hold a hearing on the FCC rule changes "to examine its implications for competition."
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