Why Ted Cruz Might Influence a Government Funding Battle

Other GOP senators also want delay in internet governance transition

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said his push against the planned transition of internet governance was about protecting "freedom on the internet." (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said his push against the planned transition of internet governance was about protecting "freedom on the internet." (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 13, 2016 at 3:24pm

Sen. Ted Cruz has found a signature issue for this year’s government funding debate — but this year the Texas Republican may be in tactical agreement with more mainstream GOP colleagues.

“The Obama administration’s proposal to give away the internet is an extraordinary threat to our freedom and it’s one most Americans don’t know anything about,” Cruz wrote in a fundraising message to supporters Tuesday.

Cruz also released a new video pushing against planned changes to internet governance.

Oversight of the internet’s domain naming system is set to shift on Oct. 1 from the U.S. government to a global organization that includes China and Russia.

Unlike the Cruz-led 2013 funding fight over the health care overhaul that helped trigger a government shutdown, the internet issue could force concessions, or at least meaningful negotiations.

Lawmakers are working on a provision to attach to a stopgap spending package that would delay the transition, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said Tuesday.

“Most people, my impression is, would like to have a delay so we have more time to look at this and understand it better and make sure we’re protected,” the Texas Republican said. “And that’s, I think, what we’re working on.”

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch is among those pushing for a delay. The Utah Republican previously authored a resolution that was adopted unanimously by the Senate, calling for changes before any shift to international oversight takes place.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday that Cruz was trying to hold up the stopgap funding measure, known as a continuing resolution. Cruz’s office declined to address the charge.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, said Cruz’s effort was a non-starter.

“Can Ted Cruz and the Republicans dream up any more obscure irrelevant issues to stop the business of the American government?” Durbin told reporters Tuesday. “If the Senate Republicans can’t control Cruz at this point, imagine when he gets in full gear running for election as president. We’ll see no end to this. I couldn’t believe it when they told me this may stop the CR.”

In a statement, Cruz said there has been a longstanding spending provision that would bar President Barack Obama’s administration from facilitating this transition.

“This has long been part of the appropriations process and the continuing resolution should continue that and strengthen it,” Cruz said. “I am hopeful that before the Sept. 30 deadline, Congress will show leadership and protect freedom on the internet.”

[GOP Wants Review of Internet Governance Handover]

Conservative groups including Heritage Action and the Conservative Action Project have come out against the transition as well. Many technology interests want the handover to proceed, in order to ensure the stability and openness of the internet.

Several other GOP senators, including Commerce Chairman John Thune of South Dakota and Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, have argued for delaying the transition from taking place.

Grassley told Roll Call on Tuesday that he planned to participate in a conversation about the issue at one of the Republican conference’s lunch meetings this week.

A provision to delay the internet oversight shift would block funds from being used to implement the transition, but Thune said Monday evening that it’s not clear if that alone would actually block the transition from taking place.

If such a provision is not included in the continuing resolution, Cruz could slow down the funding measure. For the Senate to move the resolution quickly, lawmakers would have to come to an agreement to give up allotted time for debate. Senate leaders have expressed hope that they might finish work on a CR later this week or early next.

It’s not clear whether Cruz will agree to waive time for debate, as negotiators are still working on whether they can attach such a provision to the government funding measure. But Reid is expecting that Cruz will put up a fight, and alluded to a 2013 government shutdown.

“Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from my friend, the junior senator from Texas,” Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “When the Senate has a deadline, he tries to obstruct government funding bills. So we have our work cut out for us.”