Sen. Bob Bennett: No PRA vote this year


While the radio industry agonizes over the possible outcome of negotiations with the record industry on a Performance Rights Act deal, any vote by Congress this year would have to come in a post-election day lame-duck session. One of those lame ducks told the 2010 Radio Show what the chances are of that coming about.

If the NAB and RIAA do come to agreement on a PRA deal, RBR-TVBR began to ask in the Q&A period Wednesday morning in Washington, DC, would it be likely to be passed in the lame-duck session? We actually never got that far. “No, you don’t even have to finish the question,” was the quick response from Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), who is serving his last few months in the Senate after a Tea Party candidate knocked him off the Republican line in Utah for the November election.

If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) lose their positions for the next congressional session as the result of the general election results, Bennett said they are likely to come to the lamed-duck session with a list of things they want to get done in their final days, but they will have a hard time moving any legislation with Republicans likely united in anticipation of their greater power beginning in January. “It’s going to get really ugly,” Bennett predicted.

“Ugly is good for our purposes,” noted NAB President & CEO Gordon Smith, himself a former US Senator. Broadcasters basically don’t want to see any new regulatory or financial burdens passed into law.

The one bill that will absolutely have to be passed in a lame-duck Congress is the Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep funding the US Government operations. Smith warned that a CR can become a “Christmas tree” with all sorts of additional legislation added on by the party in power, but he also noted that Republicans are likely to insist on a clean CR.

With their current 41 votes in the Senate Republicans have the ability to block a vote on an unacceptable CR and, with that 41 expected to grow to a minimum of 47 in the coming election, in Bennett’s view, and perhaps as many as 51, the Senator said the 41 members of the GOP will remain united in the lame-duck session.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) also dismissed the PRA legislation now pending as a “mistake” and noted that he was a proud sponsor of the Local Radio Freedom Act, which was written in opposition to requiring radio stations to pay any new performance royalties.

Stupak and Bennett were united, though, in dismissing the idea that a GOP-controlled Congress will be a “safe harbor” for broadcasters. Stupak, who is retiring at the end of this term, called such beliefs “misplaced.” According to Bennett, “Republican is better than Democrat, but by no means reliable.”

RBR-TVBR observation: What we found most interesting were comments from Rep. Stupak when asked what arguments from the record industry side were having the greatest impact in swaying some of his colleagues to support PRA. While Stupak is on the broadcasters’ side, he incorrectly stated the current royalties situation (which is admittedly complicated) as far as whether new media outlets are paying performance royalties (they are) and whether song writers are currently paid for radio airplay (they are). What that says to us is that while we in broadcasting are very close to the issue, the PRA is not a front burner item for Members of Congress.