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Senate Democrats Claim Small Victory on Net Neutrality

Will be taking the debate to the ballot box

Sen. Edward J. Markey has led the charge on the resolution that would effectively bring back net neutrality rules. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Edward J. Markey has led the charge on the resolution that would effectively bring back net neutrality rules. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Democrats won’t be scoring many legislative victories this year. So Wednesday’s win on a joint resolution that would upend the effort by the Federal Communications Commission to reverse Obama-era regulations on net neutrality was cause for mild celebration.

“A key question for anyone on the campaign trail in 2018 now will be: Do you support net neutrality?” Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts said at a news conference with House and Senate Democratic leaders on the effort to block the Trump administration from rolling back the regulations.

As Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer quipped after Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California said it was the highlight of the year, there has been a “low bar” on Capitol Hill for them.

The Senate voted, 52-47, in favor of the resolution Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after adopting, by the same margin, a motion to proceed to the measure under the expedited rules of the Congressional Review Act.

Democrats, led by Markey in the effort, initially picked up the support of Sen. Susan Collins. The backing of the Maine Republican was known in advance, but it still underscores just how close the margins are on the Senate floor.

Two more Republicans, Louisiana’s John Kennedy and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, voted in favor of the measure as well.

Kennedy said he had spent more time on the net neutrality question than many others pending before the Senate, but he had a rather simple explanation for his “yes” vote — wanting to ensure protection for people getting high-speed internet service in areas without competition.

“Basically, one-fifth of all Americans and Louisianans don’t have a choice,” Kennedy said. “This vote comes down to one thing, and one thing only: the extent to which you trust your cable company.”

“I believe love is the answer, but back in Louisiana I still own a handgun just in case. And I just think that there should be a free and open internet,” Kennedy told reporters.

Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune of South Dakota, who led the opposition to the Markey resolution, said in a floor speech that the appropriate remedy would be to enact legislation through regular order.

He said the new FCC rules that have been adopted would revert to the previous “light touch” regime of regulation, disputing the fears of Kennedy and the Democrats.

“I would tell you … that on June 12, after these rules go into effect, that no consumer in this country is going to see any change from what they see today,” Thune said.

“They are still going to be able to watch the internet,” the South Dakota Republican said. “They are still going to be able to go to all of their favorite social media platforms, and there isn’t going to be any change from what we have seen up to this point.”

Still, with the measure facing a less certain future in the House, it will likely be little more than a symbolic victory for the Democrats. It could, however, be yet another issue to motivate their voters to head to the polls in November.

That is the expectation of Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, who plans to file a discharge petition on the net neutrality resolution in a bid to force the legislation on to the House floor.

“Every member of Congress is going to hear from their constituents, because we’re going to make sure that people know if they really want to make it happen, they need to know they need to get on the phones, and ask their member if they’re on that discharge petition,” Doyle said. “I will bet you each and every one of their opponents in the upcoming November election is going to ask them whether they’re on that discharge petition, so it’s going to be a different set of circumstances starting tomorrow morning.”

“We consider this one of the major issues of the 2018 campaign,” Schumer said.

That is certainly the hope and expectation of political organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Net Neutrality has the potential to motivate young and progressive voters to turn out in the midterms, and we certainly welcome their support, as well as all privacy- and liberty-loving Americans who recognize that the Republican Party has abandoned these fundamental values,” DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement ahead of the Senate votes.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already used non-skippable ads to promote the effort, and the push to restore the old net neutrality rules has been a recurring theme in Democratic fundraising material, including pitches in support of some of the vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrats on the ballot in 2018.

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