History on hold, ad execs predict Capitol gridlock

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There's no winner yet in the presidential election, but it may not matter much in Congress who's taking the oath at the inauguration.

That's because the narrowed GOP control in Congress may already dictate issues in the next session. Lobbyists suggested the increased gridlock the election has created in Congress could prevent action on partisan issues. That leaves action on some non-partisan ones such as privacy, prescription drug ad spending, the suitability of advertising aimed at kids, marketing of adult movies to youth and, possibly, tobacco regulation.


Congressional leaders "have to worry that being totally gridlocked will prompt the public to view Congress as useless -- a pox on both their houses," said Jerry Cerasales, exec VP at the Direct Marketing Association. "There is going to be a tendency to push bipartisan, consumer protection ad issues towards the forefront . . . to try to show that Congress will try to help."

Virtually all ad group officials agreed that the new Congress will come into the worst possible situation for compromise on major issues. "It's likely one side will feel the election was stolen," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers. "Neither side will be able to push through an agenda, yet compromise will be less likely. Anything really contentious will die."

Hal Shoup, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said both parties are going to be "shook up."

"There is not much of a reason to give either candidate a honeymoon. If [Vice President Al] Gore loses, both sides will feel they have some kind of mandate, and if he wins in a recount, it will be by a mere whisker."

Lobbyists noted, however, that the presidential selection will have significant impact on the Supreme Court; the future of government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission; and on Justice Department antitrust issues.


The question is Congress and what can be accomplished there. That's not an easily answered question, either.

Lobbyists and lawyers say the issues most likely to pass in Congress are consumer protection issues that generate publicity without raising party divisions.

Among the issues likely to be under discussion:

* Privacy: Passage of privacy legislation by Congress next year seems almost assured, the only question being what measure will pass. Divisions on privacy legislation are not generally along party lines -- some Democrats and some Republicans urge tough and broad legislation, and others a less broad approach. Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and John Kerry (D., Mass.) are offering one piece of legislation providing notice and opt out, while others favor stronger options.

* Marketing of violent movies to kids: While Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman has pushed the issue in the presidential race, it also has been close to the heart of Lynn Cheney, wife of GOP vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney. The FTC is likely to tell Congress as soon as this week that it doesn't have authority to take after marketers that rate movies, videogames and music for adults, then market them to kids. If Texas Gov. George W. Bush should win, Sen. Lieberman and others would push the issue in Congress. Vice President Gore has promised to push the issue if he wins.

* Prescription drug advertising spending: The dramatic growth in spending for direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising, juxtaposed with continued congressional concern about increases in prescription drug prices, virtually assures discussion of the issue as Congress again tries to craft a prescription drug plan for Medicare. Ad people all expect DTC ad spending to be part of the discussion next year; this year, one piece of legislation sought to limit tax deductibility for prescription drug advertising.

"It is inevitable that there will be discussion of it [DTC advertising expenditures]," said John Kamp, a Washington lawyer and former Four A's official. "It's also inevitable that marketing costs are going to be part of the debate. Madison Avenue will either convince people that there is a reason for the advertising or it will take a hit."

Mr. Shoup said the issue would get somewhat higher profile under a Gore administration, but it's "already at the boiling point. I believe it is almost inevitable there will be some discussion of the role advertising plays."

* Marketing to kids: The use of Channel One in schools was subject to some discussion this year, and the election of first lady Hillary Clinton as New York's junior senator could raise the profile of this issue. During her campaign, Ms. Clinton gave a speech questioning any advertising aimed at kids.

* Internet taxes: The moratorium on retailers collecting taxes on sales via the Internet expires in October, inviting Congress to act.

* Tobacco: Ad groups expect new initiatives to empower the Food & Drug Administration to regulate tobacco, but how far initiatives may go is unclear.

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