The FCC has announced today that as of June 11, 2018, net neutrality will be no more.
But Senate Democrats are working hard to save it. In fact, just yesterday, they took a drastic step towards undoing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s elimination of net neutrality last year, employing seldom-used procedures under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to force the controversial roll-back to a full congressional vote.
Thirty-two Democrat Senators, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA.), filed a discharge petition on May 9 that would send a resolution of disapproval to the floor for a vote. Under the rules, if the resolution successfully passes, the 2015 regulations established by President Obama would be reinstated permanently, as future actions to remove them would be prohibited by the law. Business Insider reports that the vote is expected to take place next week, although the deadline for consideration under CRA rules is June 12.
The CRA was passed in 1996 and allows Congress to revoke any federal regulation by passing joint disapproval resolutions within 60 legislative days of the regulation taking effect. Prior to 2017, though, it was used successfully only once, aiding in the 2001 repeal of workplace safety regulations enacted under President Clinton. However, it has lately become a valuable tool in the gridlocked Senate, since it presents one of the few opportunities for action without the 60-vote cloture requirement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and White House representatives coordinated in early 2017 to very efficiently use it 13 times to reverse Obama-era regulations, exceeding even the most generous estimates of those involved.
But now, supporters of the 2015 rules governing the Internet hope that the tables might soon be turned. As of Wednesday, the resolution reinstating net neutrality has the support of all 47 Senate Democrats, as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and both Maine Senators, Angus King (I) and Susan Collins (R), leaving it one vote shy of the majority needed to pass.
Outside the Senate, though, the bill will probably not last long. It faces stronger opposition in the House, where there is a similar procedure for forcing a vote, still needing an extra 25 votes from Republicans should it receive unanimous Democrat support. Beyond that, it would also require a signature from President Trump to become law.
Nevertheless, according to CNN, Sen. Markey remains optimistic:
“Our intent is to have it pass in the Senate, the momentum is building,” he said. “We expect there to be some considerable momentum coming out of the Senate and 160 will quickly grow towards the 218 that we need to have a vote over there as well.”Pressed by a reporter about the likelihood that Trump would veto this bill if it ever made it to his desk, Markey predicted a “political firestorm” if that happened.“When we pass this in the Senate, when we pass it in the House of Representatives, when it’s clear the electorate is at 86% favorable for this issue, that we would have a political firestorm throughout this country if President Trump announced that he was going to veto that said protections, replacing it with exactly nothing,” he said.
Why It Matters
Net neutrality is a divisive issue, even among people on the right. There are numerous arguments in favor of the December 2017 decision to eliminate the regulations, and there are quite a few to be made against it as well. But aside from the soundness of the policy, there are other factors also worth considering here.
As The News Blender covered earlier, Michael Cohen, longtime personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, received a large deposit from AT&T, who had been seeking a merger with Time Warner, only to be challenged in court by the Department of Justice. And if that isn’t bad enough PR, Trump’s administration rolled back the net neutrality regulations around the conclusion of AT&T’s payments to Cohen in December 2017, in a move universally seen as beneficial to the communications giant. Given the conspicuous coinciding of those two events, plus the fact that most Americans (including Republicans) opposed the repeal of net neutrality, the likelihood becomes somewhat higher that Obama’s regulations might see a comeback.
Also, some supporters have already taken steps to raise awareness of the issue prior to the vote: Business Insider reports that “Tech companies such as Etsy, Mozilla, Tinder, Shutterstock, Warby Parker, Vimeo, and Foursquare will feature ‘red alert’ badges displayed prominently on their websites or in advertisements urging users to contact members of Congress.” Should efforts such as these succeed, the House could conceivably end up caving on the issue.
And despite President Trump having opposed net neutrality during his campaign, calling it a “top down power grab,” his lack of political ideology praised by certain right-wing media figures has manifested itself throughout his first year in office in the form of various bills he signed due to preoccupations with his popularity. As a result, counting on him to veto the resolution should it pass the House is not a matter of certainty. So dismissing the Democrats’ efforts completely as doomed to fail would probably be a mistake.
However, the fact remains that this most likely won’t go far beyond the Senate, and that all this maneuvering on the part of Democrats is largely designed just to bring about a show vote for ammunition to use against incumbents during the upcoming midterms.
Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz (D) has almost said as much, telling The Verge that “We don’t know how this is going to end, but this is part of an effort to get every member of Congress on the record either supporting or opposing Net Neutrality. With this piece of legislation, there is nowhere to hide and there are no excuses.”
So theatrics or not, this is not good news for those opposed to net neutrality, but it’s even worse for Republicans seeking re-election, who have quite the bellyful on their plates already.