GOP No. 2 Lott will hang 'em up

Senator has opposed FCC chairman on media regs

Sen. Trent Lott's decision to retire after 35 years in Congress will silence one of the loudest voices on the Commerce Committee, where the Mississippi Republican made a name reaching across the aisle.

On Monday, the second- highest-ranking Republican in the Senate said that he will step aside before year's end, saying it was time to move on.

"It's time for us to do something else," Lott said, speaking for himself and his wife, Tricia, at a news conference.

Lott described his 16 years in the House and 19 in the Senate as "a wild ride — and one that I'm proud of."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, will name someone to temporarily replace Lott.

Although Lott, who was named minority whip last year, has a buttoned-down appearance, he has been known as a bit of a maverick, often siding with key Democrats on policy issues.

Most notably, Lott teamed with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to block changes to regulations that would have made it easier for media companies to combine. Lott and Dorgan have pressured FCC chairman Kevin Martin to slow down his push make it easier to own a newspaper and TV station in the same market.

Meanwhile, the FCC was scheduled to meet today to take up a string of items, most aimed at the cable industry.

Included in the proposals that the commission could take up is a finding that cable penetration exceeds 70% of households, triggering a legal provision enacted in 1984 that gives the FCC expanded regulatory powers over cable operators that could damage cable programmers.

That provision has drawn the ire of at least one other Republican commissioner and some lawmakers.

Four GOP senators and House Republican leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged Martin to hold off on the decision.

In addition, Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein reportedly is siding with Republican commissioner Ro-bert McDowell, who said he couldn't support the panel's competition report if the finding was included.

If Martin can't find the votes he could pull the item from the agenda, or modify it.

Martin has included a number of cable-related items, including rules setting a maximum fee of 10 cents per month per subscriber for leased-access programming and a rule that effectively could force Comcast and Time Warner to carry the Hallmark Channel and the NFL Network.