Democrats in the Senate have achieved unanimous party support of the plan to undo the FCC’s recently passed order gutting net neutrality. All 49 Democratic Senators and one Republican are ready and willing to officially disapprove the Restoring Internet Freedom rule, requiring only one more vote to send this bill to… its inevitable death on the floor of the House or at best the desk of the president.
But don’t worry, there’s more to this plan. First, though, let’s hear the leaders of this bill speak winged words in recommendation and admonition.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), who leads the bill:
There is a tsunami of Congressional and grassroots support to overturn the FCC’s partisan and misguided decision on net neutrality. Republicans now have a clear choice — be on the right side of history and stand with the American people who support a free and open internet, or hold hands with the special interests who want to control the internet for their own profit.
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY):
When we force a vote on this bill, Republicans in Congress will — for the first time — have the opportunity to right the administration’s wrong and show the American people whose side they’re on: big ISPs and major corporations or consumers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI):
Every member of Congress is going to say they support an open internet, but now it’s time to put up or shut up. I hope that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle will do the right thing. Otherwise, this is just a huge giveaway to the ISPs.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND):
This isn’t a partisan issue — the vast majority of North Dakotans who have called and written to my office about this issue support strong net neutrality rules, and the FCC’s decision should be reversed.
Now back to reality. As I wrote in December, the path of using the Congressional Review Act to undo the FCC’s rule is one that is unfortunately doomed from the start. The House is very unlikely to allow the bill past it, and even if it did, the notion of the president signing off on something undermining his own administration’s efforts is laughable.
Everyone in D.C. knows this. But actually overturning the FCC decision isn’t the point; it’s making net neutrality into an issue that can be addressed concretely in the midterm elections.
“We want every member of Congress to have to go on the record and say whether or not they agree with what the commission just did,” Senator Schatz told me recently.
Forcing a vote means everyone in the Senate has to officially weigh in on this issue, and that makes it a very simple matter, come election season, to say whether they support net neutrality or not. Sure, they can blow smoke and attempt to obfuscate the issue, but ultimately people understand that the new rule vastly reduces the protections they have, and to support it is to support that reduction. It’s not going to be a popular decision.
If it gets into the House, the same thing happens there — so that’s a good reason to root for its success in the Senate, even if it doesn’t really get it any closer to becoming law.
As you read in the Senators’ statements above, they’re putting the ball squarely in the Republicans’ court. That’s not an accident, it’s a statement of fact. This is the utility of forcing a bill and the Republicans are going to be forced to take a position one way or the other.
As Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has shown with her support, there’s nothing stopping a Republican from taking the better position here, though it may be risky in terms of internal party dealings. My prediction is that her choice will serve her well in the 2018 election. Those who make the other choice may find the opposite.