McCain's Television Consumer Freedom Act would allow consumers to buy only those channels they want to watch. Under the current system, cable providers "bundle" several stations and require customers to pay for all of them.
Critics of McCain's proposal, including cable companies and networks, say it would hurt smaller networks and prevent them from producing fresh programming. They also say it could ultimately lead to higher costs.
McCain conceded that his legislation faces an "uphill battle."
The Arizona Republican cited Federal Communications Commission numbers that indicate that cable bills are projected to climb to an average of $200 a month by 2020. He said the price of basic cable has grown by an average of 6.1 percent a year over the last 16 years – three times the rate of inflation.
"The 82 percent of American households that subscribe to cable or satellite television are stuck paying escalating prices for 'bundled' packages of more than 100 channels, despite the fact that the average viewer tunes in to only about 18 of them," he said.
He said that viewers who never watch ESPN still pay $5 a month for it — which McCain called an "ESPN tax" of $60 a year.
"The reaction to my proposal could be a case study of the trouble that common-sense ideas too often face in Washington. Consumer groups and everyday citizens roundly support it. If it were up to my Twitter followers, this bill would already be law," he wrote. "But entrenched interests, including the cable and television programming companies whose bottom lines may be affected by any effort to empower consumers, have made it clear they're girding for a fight."
Still, McCain said, many industries — "from the stagecoach builders and saddle makers to those who made the eight-track tape and the Sony Walkman" have had to "meet consumers' demands or become obsolete."