Democrats rush into net neutrality battle
Democrats are promising a showdown on the Senate floor over net neutrality, betting that the issue will give Republicans headaches ahead of the midterm elections.
Using an obscure procedural tactic, the Democrats are moving to force a floor vote on a resolution that would block the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from repealing net neutrality rules. Those rules, passed under former President Obama, required internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally.
The FCC’s decision last month to roll back the rules sparked a massive uproar, creating an issue that Democrats believe could prove politically potent in November.
By forcing a roll call vote on protecting the rules, Democrats are hoping to redirect public outrage — especially among young voters — toward congressional Republicans.
“Millennials were born into a world with a free and open internet,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“It’s as integral to their daily lives as a morning cup of coffee,” he said. “So when the administration rips it from their hands and hands it over to the big [internet service providers] on a silver platter, millennials will know that Republicans were responsible — you can bet Democrats are going to make sure of that.”
The Democrats have already convinced one Republican to take their side. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) announced Tuesday that she would back the legislation, meaning the net-neutrality bill would need just one more vote to pass the Senate.
While Democrats normally have little control over what votes happen on the Senate floor, they can force a vote on net neutrality under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA gives lawmakers a chance to review federal regulations after they are issued.
CRA bills require a simple majority in both chambers and the president’s signature to become law.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), an outspoken net neutrality supporter, on Monday announced he had secured a 30th co-sponsor for a CRA resolution protecting the net neutrality rules — the number needed to clear a procedural hurdle and fast-track the resolution to a floor vote.
The 30th co-sponsor, who put the resolution over the top, was Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is up for reelection this year in a state that President Trump won in 2016 by 18 percentage points.
By Tuesday afternoon, Markey said the CRA resolution had amassed 40 co-sponsors.
Even if Democrats manage to get the bill through the Senate, it’s unlikely to clear the House, where Republicans have defended the FCC’s action as necessary. And even if the CRA resolution cleared both chambers of Congress, it’s possible that Trump would veto it.
But Democrats are undeterred, seeing a huge upside in putting the issue to a vote during an election year.
“Our Republican colleagues need to take a side.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said at Tuesday’s press conference. “They have a choice: they can be with the consumers or they can be with the special interests.”
“There will be a political price to pay for those who are on the wrong side of history,” Markey said.
For their part, Republicans have been pushing for a legislative compromise to replace the FCC’s rules. The GOP largely opposed the Obama-era regulations as too heavy-handed, but many members think that a replacement bill could preserve some of the consumer protections without stifling the broadband industry.
“Now that the FCC has acted to reverse an ill-conceived regulatory scheme, Congress must take the lead in setting a clear path forward through bipartisan legislation to avoid the risk of regulatory back and forth,” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said after the FCC’s vote to repeal the net neutrality rules.
“As I did before the Obama Administration first put its rules into place in 2015, I favor Congress enacting net neutrality protections and establishing sensible limits on the power of regulators.”
Most net neutrality supporters reject that course, saying that any bill that Republicans come up with would be a watered-down substitute of the FCC rules that had rallied so much support from internet users.
They also don’t see the need to back down when most surveys show public opinion is on their side. A December poll from the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation showed that 83 percent of voters, including 75 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of Democrats, are in favor of keeping the FCC rules in place.
And Democrats are banking on the issue being a major factor for young voters. At Tuesday’s press conference, the group of senators repeatedly offered up anecdotes of their children suddenly gaining an interest in politics after learning about the FCC’s repeal.
“Republicans have woken up a sleeping giant,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “I have to say, I’ve never seen an issue that fires up teenagers and college kids like this since the Iraq War.”