|Washington Insight, October '08|
Musical Chairs at the FCC?
In the next few months there will be some heavy-duty “musical chairs” being played amongst the five FCC commissioners. NATPE’s Washington Counsel Mickey Gardner looks at the various scenarios resulting from November’s presidential election outcome.
When the 110th Congress officially adjourns, either before election day or after a post-election lame duck session, Republican Commissioner Debbie Tate’s term will end. That’s because the very able Commissioner Tate, who has become the most effective children’s advocate in the commission’s history, is not likely to be reconfirmed by the Senate in the remaining weeks of the 110th Congress. Miracles can happen, but at this point it is very unlikely that the Democratic-controlled Senate will reconfirm Commissioner Tate.
With the conclusion of Tate’s term, the Martin FCC would be deadlocked with two Republicans (Martin and McDowell) versus two Democrats (Copps and Adelstein). But that deadlock could be ruptured were Chairman Martin to resign if Senator Obama is elected on November 4. That would leave a Democratic-controlled commission where Democratic Commissioners Copps and Adelstein outnumber the only remaining GOP Commissioner Rob McDowell 2 to 1.
The prospect of Chairman Martin resigning if Senator Obama is elected is not farfetched. Typically, FCC chairmen have resigned during the period following the election of the candidate from the opposing party. In fact, no FCC chairman in recent history has stayed on beyond Inauguration Day, January 20. That’s because the prospect of being demoted from chairman to commissioner has proven to be “unacceptable” for prior FCC chairmen who would lose control of the commission’s agenda, budget and key staff appointments once they are relegated to the status of mere commissioner.
If Senator Obama is elected president, he would be able to designate one of the two Democratic commissioners (Copps or Adelstein) as interim FCC chairman immediately after being sworn in. This is because the president doesn’t need Senate confirmation when designating an incumbent commissioner to serve as chairman. Moreover, if President Obama is calling the shots after January 20, 2009, he would be able to nominate a Democrat to fill the vacancy left by Commissioner Tate’s departure from the commission this fall. In view of the fact that the Democrats control the Senate – a reality that is likely to be augmented after the election – President Obama’s nominee to the FCC should gain speedy confirmation.
If Senator McCain becomes president, it’s anyone’s guess whether President McCain would ask Kevin Martin to continue to serve as FCC chairman. While McCain and Martin agree on the need for a la carte programming on cable, it’s questionable whether Chairman Martin, as a Bush-appointed chairman, would be asked to remain at the helm of a McCain administration’s FCC. Regardless of whether Kevin Martin stays as chairman or commissioner, President McCain would be able to nominate a Republican to fill the seat vacated this fall by Commissioner Tate.
Bottom line: it’s a very fluid situation on the eighth floor of the FCC.