After consistently accusing President Barack Obama of overstepping his executive authority on issues such as immigration, health care and the environment, Republicans ramped up their rhetoric on another front: the Internet.
The GOP criticism came after the White House released a statement Monday morning — complete with a YouTube video — affirming the president's support for the concept of net neutrality, the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally and that Internet service providers should not be able to charge more for faster access to some sites.
That principle has the support of voters — at least among the minority who actually know what net neutrality means — and it's a contrast with Republicans that Democrats and the White House have been eager to embrace.
Still, Republicans argue net neutrality amounts to a massive federal takeover of a huge sector of the economy — in this case, the Internet — a la the Affordable Care Act.
The president came out Monday in support of the Federal Communications Commission reclassifying the Internet as a public utility.
"I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online," he said in his statement, noting the FCC is "an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone."
Republicans, no doubt concerned that the Democrat-controlled FCC will act on the president's cue, responded with a mix of disappointment and outrage. “It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the Obama administration continues to disregard the people’s will and push for more mandates on our economy," Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement. "An open, vibrant Internet is essential to a growing economy, and net neutrality is a textbook example of the kind of Washington regulations that destroy innovation and entrepreneurship."
Boehner went on to say that "federal bureaucrats" shouldn't be in the business of regulating the Internet — "not now, not ever" — and that Republicans would continue in the 114th Congress to try to stop "this misguided scheme to regulate the Internet."
"And we’ll work to encourage private-sector job creation," Boehner said, "starting with many of the House-passed jobs bills that the outgoing Senate majority ignored.”
Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon and Subcommittee Vice Chairman Bob Latta of Ohio offered their own statement on the news, saying they were "extremely troubled and disappointed."
“Today’s announcement is just the latest in a long line of decisions that reveal this administration simply doesn’t know how to grow the economy," they said, finishing their statement by declaring that the Internet "isn’t a utility, so we shouldn’t treat it as one.”
Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was among the first to accuse the president of improperly trying to influence the FCC. He said Obama's decision to put "political pressure" on the FCC was bad for American consumers and he urged regulators to ignore the president.
"Instead of bowing to political pressure from the president, the FCC should take into account the strong bipartisan support for keeping the Internet free and open," Issa said.
Democrats saw the issue differently and were more than happy to give the president a round of press release applause.
“Today, President Obama affirmed that free and open access to the Internet is a bedrock right of the 21st century," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. "The Internet cannot belong to the wealthy and well-connected; it must be an open space for innovation, entrepreneurship, and communication — a level playing field where success is founded on the best ideas, not the deepest pockets."
Pelosi also thanked Obama for his "forceful leadership" on the issue as the president "joins the courts in outlining a clear path forward for the FCC."
"The FCC," Pelosi continued, "must act swiftly to create clear and enforceable net neutrality standards so the Internet can continue to foster freedom and prosperity here in the United States and around the world."
How and when the FCC responds is still undetermined, but the GOP accusations of and investigations into a case of executive overreach might not be far behind.
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