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Senate Democrats Join With Collins To Force Vote On Restoring Obama Net Neutrality Rules

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Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. reads from a statement during Wednesday's net neutrality press conference. (Screen capture from livestream)

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2018 — Senate Democrats on Wednesday announced plans to invoke a rarely-used Senate procedure to force a floor vote on a bill to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama-era regulations preventing internet providers from blocking or throttling internet traffic.

“Today we are officially filing the discharge petition to force a vote on my Congressional Review Act resolution that would put strong net neutrality rules back on the books,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. said as he kicked off a Wednesday morning news conference. “The CRA resolution would fully restore the rules that ensure Americans aren’t subject to higher prices, slower internet traffic, and even blocked websites because the big internet service providers want to pump up their profits.”

“We’re here today because Democrats in the Senate are taking the final step to consideration of a bill to restore net neutrality,” added Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re now one step away from allowing the American public to see where their elected officials stand on protecting their internet service.”

Markey’s bill would restore previous network neutrality rules

The bill in question is S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval, which makes use of procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act in order to roll back FCC rules in effect since April which repealed the Obama-era regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).

The regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.

A rare opportunity for Democrats to hit back for the little guy

Schumer cast Markey’s bill as part of a broader response to how under Trump administration congressional Republicans frequently enact the priorities of big business into law at the expense of “average folks.”

“When the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in December, they handed the largest internet service providers all the cards, and left American families and small businesses helpless before these providers,” he said. “That’s why we Democrats are so concerned about net neutrality.”

“Our Republican friends say ‘let the free market prevail, let the big boys do whatever they want,’” he continued. “We don’t do that for highways, you can’t charge different toll rates for different people. We don’t do that for utilities. In the 21st century, the internet is every bit as important to average folks as highways and utilities have been through the 20th century, and we’ve learned through the years that average folks need some protection from the big boys.”

What Schumer called the “final step” is the filing of a discharge petition, which when signed by 50 senators, invokes a rarely-used parliamentary procedure to force a bill to be brought to the floor for a vote. The maneuver is necessary because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not indicated any interest in bringing the resolution, which was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Democrats are using one of the GOP’s favorite laws against it

Under the CRA, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, Congress can use a resolution of disapproval to repeal rules put in place by regulatory agencies like the FCC.

Such bills are joint resolutions, which require the president’s signature to become law. But unlike most bills, CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered in the Senate, meaning only 51 votes are required to pass them.

Though it had been only used once in the two decades since it became law, the CRA has found new life with a Republican Congress and a Republican in the White House.
Since the GOP-led 115th Congress began, it has sent President Trump fifteen resolutions, all of which he has signed. These repealed various Obama-era regulations pertaining to consumer protection, environmental protection, and gun safety.

One of these CRA resolutions is unlike the others

But while Democrats have complained that those resolutions lifted restraints on business, Markey said his use of the CRA will do the opposite.

“Passing this resolution will “send a clear message that this Congress won’t fall to the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies, but rather, will do right by the people who sent us here,” he said, adding that he was “pleased” that his bill has bipartisan support thanks to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Although there are only 49 Democrats in the Senate currently, the addition Collins gives Democrats enough signatures to force McConnell to hold a floor vote on Markey’s resolution.

Markey hopes pressure from constituents will convince one more Republican to vote ‘yes’

As for the 51st vote that would allow the bill to pass the Senate, Markey said a number of other Republicans had “expressed an openness” to voting for it, and that they might be swayed by constituent calls supporting the bill.

It’s likely that those senators will receive a number of those calls thanks to an online advocacy campaign including many popular websites, which are showing their users ads urging them to call their elected representatives in support of Markey’s bill.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the choice of whether to support Markey’s bill or not “is not at all complicated.”

“if you want a free and open internet, which means that after you pay your internet access fee, you get to go where you want, when you want and how you want, you have to support the Markey measure,” said Wyden, a longtime advocate of network neutrality protections.

The alternative envisioned by FCC Chairman Pai, Wyden said, “[puts] the big communications monopolies in charge rather than the consumers.”

“What he’s about is building an info era aristocracy where the well-to-do get faster speeds…and the average person is on the road to digital serfdom,” he added, urging internet users to employ the same tactics used in the campaign to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2011 and 2012.

Even if Democrats get a 51st vote for the bill, its prospects in the House are uncertain

While Markey noted that Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa. has introduced a companion bill in the House, H.J.Res. 129, that bill remains a long-shot despite having 160 co-sponsors, as it lacks Republican support.

When asked about whether there’d been much outreach to House Republicans by the bill’s Senate supporters, a source within Senate Democratic leadership said there hadn’t been much in the way of inter-chamber outreach at this point.

[The] first step is [the] Senate, where we’re still fighting to get 51,” said the source.

Even if Markey and Schumer’s gambit fails, however, there is still hope for advocates of the old rules, in the form of a federal lawsuit filed against the FCC by a number of public interest groups in hopes that a court will order Pai and his colleagues to return to enforcing common carrier regulations on broadband providers.

(Photo: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., reads from a statement as Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., look on. Image captured from video at https://www.facebook.com/EdJMarkey/videos/10155722134966379/)

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Andrew Feinberg is the Managing Editor and lead Washington Correspondent for Breakfast Media, and covers the White House, Capitol Hill, courts and regulatory agencies for BeltwayBreakfast and BroadbandBreakfast.com. He has written about policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007.

Cabinet Departments

Democrats Mourn Loss of Net Neutrality, But Industry Supporters Call it a New Day

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WASHINGTON, June 12, 2018 – As the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama-era network neutrality rules took effect Monday, Democrats and net neutrality advocates vowed to continue the effort to use a Congressional Review Act resolution to roll back the new FCC rules.

“There will be no eulogy today for net neutrality,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a longtime network neutrality advocate and a member of the Senate Commerce Committee.

“The FCC will not have the last word when it comes to net neutrality, the American people will,” he said. “The fight to restore net neutrality rules has new urgency today and moving forward as we continue to work in the House of Representatives to repeal the FCC’s terrible decision.”

Markey urged House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to call for a floor vote on a companion bill to the CRA resolution passed by the Senate last month. The CRA measure, if it passed both chambers and were signed by the president, would void the laissez-faire “regulations” promulgated by the FCC in December 2017, under agency Chairman Ajit Pai.

‘An overwhelming majority of Americans’ support net neutrality, say Democratic legislators

The sponsor of that companion CRA bill, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., noted that “an overwhelming majority of Americans” support network neutrality despite the FCC’s refusal to follow public sentiment, but that it was “still possible” to save the policy by passing his resolution.

“The Senate has voted to overturn the FCC order that killed off net neutrality,” Doyle said. “Now the House must do the same.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., slammed Ryan’s refusal to bring the Markey-Doyle resolution to the House floor.

“By refusing to bring up the Senate-passed resolution to restore net neutrality, which passed the Senate by a powerful bipartisan vote, House Republican leaders gave a green light to the big ISPs to charge middle-class Americans, small business owners, schools, rural Americans, and communities of color more to use the internet,” Schumer said, adding that the entire Senate Democratic Caucus had sent Ryan a letter urging him to move Doyle’s bill forward.

Schumer said that Republicans, except of the three GOP Senators who sided with the Democrats, were choosing large corporations and special interests over American families.

“Every Republican who opposed this vote will own any and all of the damaging consequences of the FCC’s horribly misguided decision,” he warned.

Pai publishes an op-ed arguing that the ‘Restoring Internet Freedom Order’ will restore internet freedom

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defended his agency’s repeal of Obama-era network neutrality rules in an op-ed for C-Net. He said the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” will only improve the internet for users.

“Under the Federal Communications Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which takes effect Monday, the internet will be just such an open platform. Our framework will protect consumers and promote better, faster internet access and more competition,” Pai wrote.

Pai attempted to bolster the FCC’s decision through claims that the new regulations introduces stronger transparency laws and hence more protection for the consumer.

He also lauded his agency passing power to the Federal Trade Commission for enforcement actions.

“Our approach includes strong consumer protections,” Paid said. “For example, we empower the Federal Trade Commission to police internet service providers for anticompetitive acts and unfair or deceptive practices. In 2015, the FCC stripped the FTC – the nation’s premier consumer protection agency – of its authority over internet service providers.

“This was a loss for consumers and a mistake we have reversed. Starting Monday, the FTC will once again be able to protect Americans consistently across the internet economy, and the FCC will work hand-in-hand with our partners at the FTC to do just that.”

Internet Innovation Alliance on defending the need for new laws on neutrality and privacy

The Internet Innovation Alliance, a coalition of business and non-profit organizations under leadership of Former Congressman Rick Boucher, D-Va., also defended the new laws.

The IIA issued a statement of support for today’s decision, calling it “the right decision” for consumers, investors, and “for the internet itself, as the internet will once again be subject to the rules under which it grew and flourished for nearly 20 years.”

Despite expressing support for the FCC’s rollback of Title II regulations, the IIA’s statement also addressed fears that the repeal of net neutrality —will empower internet service providers to discriminate against certain websites or services.

“But as grateful as we are for the Commission’s action and today’s implementation, we cannot rest here. The broadband internet is too important to our national life,” read the statement.

“We once again call on Congress to pass, this year, a law protecting the core principles of an open internet – no blocking, no throttling, no censorship, no unfair discrimination based on online content – and including robust consumer privacy protections that apply to all entities in the internet ecosystem and no matter how consumers access the internet.

“Only that action can settle the issue permanently and ensure that the principles of a truly open internet will have the force of statutory law,” IIA said.

(Photo collage of Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., upper left; Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., upper right; former Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., lower right; and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, lower left.)

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Network Neutrality

Senate Votes 52-47 To Advance Bill Restoring Obama-era Net Neutrality Rules

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Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., speaks during a press conference last week as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., looks on

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2018 — Senate Democrats on Wednesday joined forces with Republicans Susan Collins, John Kennedy, R-La. and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ak. to approve a bill which rolls back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules enacted under former President Obama, 52-47

The bill, S.J. Res. 52, is a so-called resolution of disapproval which uses procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act to prevent the FCC’s repeal of regulations, commonly known as net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. 

“Today the Senate took the most important vote on the internet in its history, and the American people won,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “It is a victory…for every family in America, it is a victory for our economy, and for our democracy.”

Markey thanked Collins, Kennedy and Murkowski for their votes, noting that the result “could not have happened without them.” He then added that the Senate vote “puts the House on notice,” giving House Republicans a choice between “standing with the American people, or with President Donald Trump and his “cronies”

Repeal of net neutrality rules, a priority of President Trump, still looms

The FCC’s repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules will take effect June 11 unless the House passes a companion bill and President Donald Trump signs the bill.
The repeal process began at the commission’s December open meeting and has been a priority for Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican and longtime opponent of strong net neutrality protections.

Pai’s push to roll back the Title II protections made him a key player in implementing Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations, and put the FCC — traditionally the province of technology and telecommunications geeks and wonks — firmly in the public spotlight.

The Senate’s vote to roll back Pai’s is also a rare rebuke to Trump, who has made what his former strategist Steve Bannon called “deconstruction of the administrative state” a major priority.

Democrats had the 51 votes needed to pass Markey’s bill earlier today

Although most legislation requires 60 Senators to vote to end debate on a bill before it can receive an up-or-down majority vote, resolutions under the Congressional Review Act, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, cannot be filibustered, meaning only 51 votes were required for passage in the Senate.

While Republicans have a 51-49 advantage in the Senate, Collins’ support made today’s result all-but-assured because Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., remains at home undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Kennedy and Murkowski were the only two Republicans to vote for the bill other than Collins, whose support was also crucial in allowing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to force his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the Democrat-sponsored bill to the floor using a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver called a discharge petition.

Democrats still have work to do but the final outcome is still uncertain

Even with today’s result, House Democrats must still garner enough Republican signatures for a discharge petition of their own, though they have until the end of the 115th Congress’ second session to do so. If both chambers pass the bill, the joint resolution would still require the president’s assent — with or without his signature — for it to become law.

While President Donald Trump has signed 15 CRA resolutions since taking office, those have repealed regulations promulgated in the waning days of the previous administration. It is unclear whether Trump would allow a 16th to become law if doing so restored a regulation enacted under his predecessor.

When asked last week if President Trump would be amenable to such a resolution, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal.

“We’ll keep you posted when we have a specific policy announcement on that front,” she said.

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Congress

McCain’s Absence Means Democrats’ Net Neutrality Bill Expected To Pass 50-49

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. with President Donald Trump (R)

WASHINGTON, May 16, 2018 — The absence of Arizona Senator John McCain (R) from the Senate means Democrats appear to have enough votes to pass a bill to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of network neutrality rules put in place under the Obama administration, 50-49.

Without McCain, who remains at home in Arizona while undergoing treatment for brain cancer, the Senate’s 49 Democrats can count on 50 votes thanks to the support of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, for S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval making use of procedures laid out under the 1996 Congressional Review Act to roll back rules the FCC approved in December to repeal regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).

Those regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.

Collins was instrumental in getting Democrats’ bill to the floor

Collins’ support for the bill allowed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to force his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the Democrat-sponsored bill to the floor using a rarely-used parliamentary maneuver called a discharge petition.

Although Senate rules normally require that 2/3 of the Senate vote in favor of ending debate on a bill before it can receive an up-or-down vote, resolutions under the Congressional Review Act resolutions cannot be filibustered, meaning the measure could pass with a majority vote rather than the de-facto 60-vote threshold that has become the norm thanks to both sides’ increased use of the fillibuster in recent years.

Passage will be a victory for Senate Dems, but the effort’s future beyond that is unclear

The fight to restore the Obama-era net neutrality rules will now depend on two very different politicians: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Trump.

Pelosi’s skill at holding her caucus together will be key as the fight moves to the House of Representatives, where Democrats face an uphill battle in gathering enough Republican support to force House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to hold a vote on a companion to Markey’s bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa.

While the bill’s passage would represent a major — and rare — victory for a Democratic caucus that has struggled to make headway against President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations, it would also be a rare rebuke to Trump, who has made what his former strategist Steve Bannon called “deconstruction of the administrative state” a major priority.

While Trump has relished the opportunity to sign 15 CRA resolutions since he took office last year — more than all other presidents combined — it’s not known whether he’d sign a 16th if it would restore a regulation promulgated under his predecessor.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was noncommittal last week when asked if President Trump would be amenable to allowing the Democrat-backed bill to become law.

“We’ll keep you posted when we have a specific policy announcement on that front,” she said.

Making Trump’s approval more unlikely is the fact that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave FCC Chairman Pai’s efforts to roll back the Obama-era net neutrality rules the White House’s imprimatur last year during a July press briefing.

“We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” she said.

The future remains clouded but Democrats will still celebrate

Nevertheless, Democrats are planning to enjoy the rare opportunity to strut a bit by holding a press conference after the Senate finishes voting today at around 3 this afternoon, which a source close to Markey said would also serve to highlight House Democrats’ ongoing efforts.

Those expected to speak include Markey, along with Minority Leader Schumer, Sens. Maria Cantwell and Brian Schatz of Washington and Hawaii, respectively.

They will also be joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., along with Doyle and Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., who are leading the effort to bring Doyle’s bill to the House floor.

While the Senate effort was made more urgent because of a need to pass Markey’s bill before the end of a 60-day period during which it could be considered, House Democrats have until the end of the 115th Congress’ second session to finish the job.

(creative commons photo: President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.)

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