H'wood prepares for power shift

Democrats considered to be more activist in their roles

When the Democrats take control of Congress next year, the entertainment industry lobby here is hoping that they can wield influence with a new set of politicians who will be wielding the gavels.

The chairmanships of the all-important committees, where most of the heavy legislative lifting gets done, will shift to Democratic hands. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is expected to chair the Commerce Committee, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the Judiciary Committee. The tax-writing Ways and Means Committee likely will be headed by Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.

It is a power shift that President Bush recognized in his post-election news conference, where he referred to the election outcome as a "thumpin'."

"They'll control the committees, and they'll control the flow of bills," Bush said.

It was a power at least one chairman was ready to exert even before he wins back the gavel as Dingell told reporters he didn't plan to be idle. He already was pushing the FCC to make a thorough examination of AT&T's $81 billion merger with BellSouth. The merger has been stalled as Democrats and Republicans on the FCC have split over the deal. GOP commissioner Robert McDowell has not taken a stand on the merger because of a conflict of interest.

"I think it would be in their interest, I think it would be in the interest of the committee, and I think it would be in the broad public interest," Dingell said in an afternoon conference call with reporters.

Dingell's assertiveness on that one issue could be seen as a signal of a more activist Congress. Under Republicans, the congressional oversight function has been most notable for its absence.

Entertainment industry executives have to renew their relationships with the Democrats who now control many of the levers of power, something that might be easier for some.

"I'm trying to contain my joy," MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman told The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm supposed to be above politics in this job, but I think that balance is good. An equilibrium is what the founders had in mind."

Glickman is a former Democratic congressman and was agriculture secretary under President Clinton. He was swept out of office in 1994 when the Republicans blew in.

"I was a Democratic lawmaker, so I have a lot of personal relationships with Democrats," he said. "That doesn't mean I don't have relationships with Republicans. I've felt that with a Republican-controlled Congress, that by and large we were well treated. I didn't detect any ideological agenda with our issues, and I don't think it will be ideological now."

While Glickman seems to have an advantage with Democrats, other industry lobbyists who are Republicans said they expected to work well with the new leaders.

The National Association of Broadcasters, the RIAA and the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. are headed by high-profile Republicans.

Montana Sen. Conrad Burns' loss to Democrat Jon Tester comes as a blow to broadcasters. Burns, a former broadcaster, was one of the industry's most reliable supporters on Capitol Hill.

"In truth, I'm happy and sad about the election," NAB president and CEO David Rehr said.

Barton often sided with the cable industry over broadcasters in the inter-industry fights that shape policy.

Rehr also thought that his industry could make headway with Democrats because they often have been considerate of broadcasters' commitment to public service. "Republicans tend to be black and white on it seeing the business side, but Democrats tend to recognize the unique role broadcasters play with public service," he said.

Like Rehr, RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol sees some opportunity. "I think the Democrats are modestly closer to the recording industry than the previous majority," he said. "But what hasn't changed is the legislative math," he said. "You still have to have bipartisan support to move anything."

In the House, that usually means a simple majority in the committees and on the floor. In the Senate, it means getting an agreement by unanimous consent or the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

Bainwol, Rehr and Glickman agreed on at least one point: There will be lots of new lawmakers who will have to learn the ropes.

"No one person controls the agenda of the U.S. Congress. People will have to learn what the industry is about and what it means the national economy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.