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Nominee for U.S. telecom regulator heads to Senate vote as Cruz lifts hold

Alina Selyukh
Tuesday, 29 Oct 2013 | 4:54 PM ET

WASHINGTON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate is expected to take on the nomination of Tom Wheeler to be the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday after Republican Senator Ted Cruz lifted his hold on the vote.

Cruz said on Tuesday he lifted his block on the nomination after meeting with Wheeler and receiving affirmation that the FCC would not pursue new disclosure rules for sponsors of political ads.

Some Democrats have suggested that the FCC's existing oversight authority over broadcasters could be used to force TV advertisers to name specific sponsors for each political spot they buy after legislating such rules failed in Congress.

Cruz and other Republicans have urged the FCC to avoid the political matter.

In a statement, Cruz said Wheeler told him that the nominee "heard the unambiguous message" that pursing the political disclosure efforts would "imperil the Commission's vital statutory responsibilities."

"He explicitly stated that doing so was 'not a priority,"' Cruz said about Wheeler, a telecom industry veteran and Obama adviser. "Based on those representations, I have lifted my hold on his nomination, and I look forward to working with him on the FCC to expand jobs and economic growth."

To overcome Cruz's block, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had earlier scheduled for Wednesday a cloture vote on Wheeler's nomination alongside other stalled nominations - a move that would require 60 votes in the 100-member chamber, meaning some Republicans would need to vote in favor for it to pass.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Monday threatened to hold all President Barack Obama's nominees over questions about the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. However, his office confirmed that according to Senate procedure, Graham's threat of hold would not affect the nominees for whom Reid had already scheduled a cloture vote.

The telecommunications industry is eagerly awaiting Wheeler's confirmation to pull the FCC from its holding pattern without a permanent leader on several crucial initiatives, including a forthcoming major reshuffling of ownership of airwaves.

Wheeler has worked at a venture capital firm investing in technology, raised money for Obama's political campaigns and advised Obama and the FCC on telecom issues. He was previously an industry lobbyist, running the National Cable Television Association and then the wireless industry group CTIA.

The Senate has yet to vote on the nomination of Republican Michael O'Rielly to fill the fifth and final open FCC commissioner position.

Senators are expected to confirm the nomination of O'Rielly, a longtime congressional staffer, after Wheeler is confirmed, according to industry sources working on Capitol Hill.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)