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John McCain weighs in on AOL--Time Warner deal

Presidential hopeful flexes Senatorial muscle

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US Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) will convene a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to investigate the proposed AOL--Time Warner merger, he revealed on NBC's "Meet the Press". McCain is the Committee's co-Chairman, and also, incidentally, a candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, though we at The Register would sooner hang ourselves than imply that there could possibly be a connection between the two. The deal could cause "triggering of other mergers within [the telecoms] industry" and ultimately lead to higher consumer prices nationwide, the Senator believes. "I'm very concerned about the continued mergers....You reach a point at some time where it's not good for the consumer and it stifles competition," he said. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, not Congress, will make the call on whether or not the deal is lawful; but Congress does have the power to draft regulations which both must obey. The Senate Commerce Committee oversees the telecommunications industry, among others. Congressional oversight is therefore indirect; nevertheless, AOL and Time Warner lobbyists have already begun trolling Capitol Hill in quest of sympathetic Members to sue their case before the public. The public's eye will indeed be focused on the deal, as the Senate Judiciary Committee will also hold hearings on it. For the companies, this will be primarily an opportunity for their representatives to appear before consumers and detail, by various forms of tortured calculus, the numerous benefits they are to be vouchsafed by the merger. For McCain, who is runing virtually neck-and-neck against Texas Governor George W. Bush, his only plausible rival for the Republican nomination, the hearings will provide a solemn public forum where McCain can communicate his core message while at the same time appearing manly and 'Presidential', which the Governor from Texas cannot hope to match. The symmetry here is intriguing: Bush has accumulated a positively obscene amount of money to spend on his campaign, but he is not known in Washington, except as the son of former US President George H. Bush. McCain, on the other hand, is operating on a much more modest budget, but he is an experienced and agile Washington insider with many more levers to pull than little Telemachos, whose only real trump-cards are his obscene bank acount and the accident of his paternal legacy. We will be most curious to learn whether McCain's access to Washington's numerous public soap-boxes and old-boy networks, or Bush's brute-force spending limits, will carry the day. The Senate floor and hearing chambers will provide McCain an opportunity to reach the public in ways that Bush can only dream of. If McCain plays to his audience well, he will become the popular choice. However, both the Republican and Democratic Parties have a history of treating the popular choice with ostentatious contempt unless he also happens to be the Party favourite, or the lapdog most likely to satisfy the ambitions and desires of the Party elite -- a description, we note, which fits George-W like a glove. ®

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