Senate Democrats will force a vote Wednesday to repeal changes to net neutrality rules that were recently adopted by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission.
The measure, which is backed by all 49 Democrats and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, is expected to pass in the Senate but its future in the GOP-led House is doubtful and President Donald Trump is unlikely to back it.
Democrats argue the new rules give too much power to Internet service providers, whom they fear will throttle down Internet speeds for some websites and services while ramping it up for others who pay more for faster speeds.
"The internet should be kept free and open like our highways, accessible and affordable to every American, regardless of ability to pay" said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, in a statement announcing Democrats would force the vote, utilizing a rarely-used discharge petition. "The repeal of net neutrality is not only a blow to the average consumer, but it is a blow to public schools, rural Americans, communities of color and small businesses. A vote against this resolution will be a vote to protect large corporations and special interests, leaving the American public to pay the price."
Democrats are employing the Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress to repeal agency rules and regulations on a simple majority vote -- instead of a 60-vote threshold needed to break procedural hurdles on most legislation -- if lawmakers act within a narrow timeframe after an agency puts a rule into place. Republicans have used the same technique to reverse several Obama-era regulations.
While Democrats recognize they are unlikely to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's rule, they see the issue as a key policy desire that also galvanizes their base voters, a top priority ahead of the midterm elections.
Republicans argue the agency's recent action restored the "light touch" of government regulation that allowed the Internet to flourish since its inception. They say they support net neutrality but want Congress to pass a law codifying it instead of leaving it up to federal agencies that can reverse course with each new administration.
"But instead of moving forward with that approach with Republicans to draft such legislation, the Democratic leadership decided to try to score political points by pushing a resolution to undo the FCC's decision, even though undoing this decision will do nothing to provide a permanent solution on net neutrality," said Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, who chairs the Commerce Committee that has oversight of the FCC, speaking on the floor last week.
One top Republican aide predicted after the CRA effort stalls, Democrats may return to the bargaining table over a legislative fix.