Democrats worried about Republican FCC pick's partisanship

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"Just in hearing your testimony, it raised a red flag with me about how non-partisan you will be as a commissioner," Pryor said. 

"The last thing we need on these commissions is a partisan divide," the senator warned. 

O'Rielly insisted that he will work with the Democratic majority on a range of issues.

"Typically communications policy is not overtly partisan," O'Rielly said. "There are a couple issues that do bleed in that space, but they're very few and far between in my experience." 

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) also bristled at O'Rielly's statement that he would take a "flexible and light-handed" approach to regulations.

"Those are code words," Rockefeller said.

But the committee chairman said he believes O'Rielly is well-qualified and that his confirmation is a "done deal."

Although the president formally nominates all federal commissioners, by tradition, he honors the choice of Senate Republicans for Republican seats. 

O'Rielly is an aide to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and has also worked for then-Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and John Sununu (R-N.H.) and on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

During the hearing, O'Rielly pledged to enforce the FCC's TV indecency rules and said he believes the federal government should turn over more airwaves to the private sector. He also argued that the commission should quickly complete its review of media ownership rules.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) called the agency's Lifeline phone subsidy "one of the most fraud-infested programs."

O'Rielly agreed that the FCC should do more to crack down on fraud and abuse in Lifeline.