Faced with a possible filibuster and the threat of a presidential veto, the Senate sponsor of legislation to re-regulate the cable television industry declared the measure "dead and buried" Friday for the waning days of the 101st Congress.
A similar bill, to restore some of the cable TV oversight lifted by Congress in 1984, sailed through the House on a voice vote earlier in the month, and the Senate version had cleared the Commerce Committee in June on an 18-1 vote.A long list of amendments were pending on the Senate bill, but Senate sources said compromises had been reached on most of the contentious issues and the bill would have been passed had it come up for a vote.
However, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced strong opposition to both bills and said it would recommend President Bush veto them.
The cable industry, while acknowledging it could live with some rate re-regulation, bitterly attacked provisions of the Senate bill that would limit their ability to make exclusive programming deals and other business strictures.
Sen. Timothy Wirth, D-Colo., on Friday objected to bringing the bill to the floor for debate or vote. Faced with a possible filibuster, the bill's chief Senate manager, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, declared the measure "dead and buried" for this session.
The retreat on the bill came after a two-year effort to meld some two dozen cable bills into a law that would address rising concerns about shoddy service and cable prices, which have risen 43 percent in the past three years.
"The Consumer Federation of America has called this legislation the most important piece of consumer legislation in this Congress," said Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., one of the architects of the bill. "I do not believe that that is an exaggeration."
Danforth said, "Consumers are outraged and we have the opportunity to do something about it. And we will do something about it next year. But as for now, the cable companies have won. They get to increase the price of service and allow the quality of service to deteriorate until the Congress acts."
Some predicted the cable industry would find itself fighting a more onerous bill next year.
"This bill was like in-patient surgery on the cable industry dealing with surface wounds," said Gene Kimmelman, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America. "My guess is that next year's bill is going to be like heart and brain surgery combined."