Net neutrality is set to become a 2018 campaign issue after Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins announced support for an effort by Democrats to force a vote. The effort, spearheaded by Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), would overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s decision in December to overturn Obama-era rules on net neutrality.
Under the Congressional Review Act, new regulations not passed through Congress can be overturned with a simple majority of both houses. In the Senate, the law provides a method to force a vote if the committee where the resolution would normally be referred to does not act within 20 days of its introduction to said committee, and without the approval of the majority, if need be.
Thirty senators must sign onto the petition to force the vote. As of Tuesday, January 9, 43 of the 49 Democratic Senators had publicly expressed support for the effort or signed the petition, and it is expected that the remaining six would also sign on or vote in the affirmative when it comes to the floor. With Collins, this would mean the effort is one vote shy of being able to pass the Senate.
In a statement by spokeswoman Annie Clark, Collins seemed to slam FCC chairman Ajit Pai‘s handling of the repeal of net neutrality rules. Pai was accused by critics of rushing through the process and bowing to pressure from companies like Verizon, which was his former employer.
“She believes that a careful, deliberative process involving experts and the public is warranted to ensure that consumers have strong protections that guarantee consumer choice, free markets, and continued growth,” Clark said in a statement.
While the news is welcome to net neutrality advocates, there still is a long road ahead. The CRA requires that the House also pass the resolution and a presidential signature. The House, at this point, appears to be a tougher challenge, although potentially possible, but it is highly unlikely that President Donald Trump would sign the resolution if it passes Congress.
In that case, a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress would be required to overturn its veto like any other piece of legislation. Democrats appear to recognize this, and in the end, the effort may be more about forcing Republicans to take a stand on a move by the FCC that is widely opposed by both Republican and Democratic voters.
“We’re going to let everyone know where we stand and they stand,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference. Schumer also said Democrats plan to make it a 2018 midterm campaign issue.
There is a bit of irony in the moves by both Democrats and Sen. Collins when it comes to net neutrality. Democrats started an effort in May to repeal the CRA after it was used 16 times to overturn Obama-era regulations (all but one succeeded). Collins also co-sponsored an effort to overturn Obama’s first attempt at open internet policies in 2010.
Those rules were later overturned in court, leading to the rewriting of net neutrality policies in 2015 to classify the internet as “common carriers.”
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