Congress

The net neutrality bill is dead in the Senate, but Democrats don’t mind

Democrats are confident they’ll be able to use it to skewer vulnerable GOP candidates next November

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., leave the Senate Policy luncheons in the Capitol on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already declared the Democratic net neutrality bill, which passed the House on Wednesday, “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber.

But Senate Democrats don’t seem to mind.

“It’s going to be an incredible issue in 2020,” said Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Edward J. Markey a longtime proponent of policies blocking broadband companies from controlling how consumers use the Internet. “Ninety percent of millennials!”

Democrats likely never gave their legislation, sponsored by Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle, much of a chance of advancing beyond the House. But while Republicans have spent weeks shaping their message opposing it — Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma has declared it a “Democratic takeover of the internet” — Democrats are confident they’ll be able to use it to skewer vulnerable GOP candidates next November.

“This issue illustrates that political change doesn’t start in Washington D.C. and then trickle down,” said Sen. Ron Wyden applauding freshman House Democrats who have sought to highlight the issue this year.

“You make a good showing in the House and I think people will pay attention,” the Oregon Democrat said.

The House bill, passed Wednesday by a tally of 232-190, would restore the net neutrality regulations put forth by former President Barack Obama in 2015 that were later rolled back by the Trump administration. Those regulations had classified broadband as a Title II utility under the Communications Act of 1934, a move that Republicans say they oppose because it would hurt small businesses and consumers.

The parties largely agree on the three core tenets of net neutrality — no blocked content, no throttled access speeds and no prioritization for customers willing to pay more — but the Title II designation and Democratic efforts to enshrine the Federal Communications Commissions’ enforcement guidelines have proved a bridge too far for Republicans.

Despite McConnell’s insistence that the bill has no chance, Democrats still believe some of their colleagues across the aisle can be brought around thanks to a favorable 2020 Senate map.

“The math has changed for Republicans,” said Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “They have more Republicans answerable on this issue and they’re going to need to pay attention.”

Last year, three Senate Republicans joined their Democratic colleagues in voting for a resolution under the Congressional Review Act aimed at reversing the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the Obama-era rules. Among them was Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who faces a tough reelection campaign.

Collins told CQ she hasn’t reviewed the Democratic bill. She said she remains committed to bipartisan discussions on the topic of net neutrality but is not aware of any happening currently.

Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said “there might very well be” bipartisan action on net neutrality this year if Democrats are willing to make concessions on the Title II designation.

But that seems unlikely if Democrats are intent on using the issue on the campaign trail, or if the past few weeks in the House offer any indication of how the Senate might act.

At a House Rules Committee meeting on Tuesday, Republicans slammed Democrats for not considering any of the three substitute bills they had offered as an alternative to Doyle’s legislation. But Doyle asserted that the GOP efforts were not serious, noting that the bills were introduced the morning that the Energy and Commerce Committee planned a hearing on his bill.

Still, Republicans claimed they were acting in good faith.

“Net neutrality doesn’t need Title II,” said Republican Ohio Rep. Bob Latta. “It just requires a Congress willing to work together.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.