As Internet activists celebrated their net-neutrality win Thursday, Republicans were already plotting their revenge.
GOP lawmakers were virtually unanimous in expressing their outrage about the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to reclassify the Internet as a utility. But there is widening disagreement within the ranks about just what flavor of revenge the party should ultimately pursue, such as compromise legislation, a congressional resolution of disapproval, or a fight over FCC funding.
“There’s going to be a lot of Republicans in both the House and Senate who are going to want to express their opposition to what the FCC is doing,” Sen. John Thune, who chairs the upper chamber’s Commerce Committee, told National Journal moments before the FCC vote took place. “If we can’t come together behind a legislative solution, I suspect that those other options are on the table.”
Thune, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, has been at the forefront of his party’s efforts to pursue legislation that would essentially enforce the meat of the FCC’s net-neutrality protections without designating the Internet as a “telecommunications service.” Though Thune has had some success earning the interest of a handful of moderate Democrats, such as Sens. Bill Nelson and Claire McCaskill, most Democrats have shown little interest in the proposal.
“Along with many of my colleagues, I regard this as a nonstarter,” Sen Al Franken, a vocal net-neutrality proponent, said late Thursday in reference to Thune’s legislation.
A lot of Republicans appear to have little interest in pushing legislation, either, preferring instead to blast the FCC action as another example of overreach by the Obama administration. In lieu of a compromise, many have floated more punitive measures.
Twenty-one House Republicans sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler vowing to push a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act—which only needs a simple majority in both houses—to nullify the agency’s actions and prevent any future reliance on Title II of the Communications Act. The president can still veto such a resolution.
“We will not stand by idly as the White House, using the FCC, attempts to advance rules that imperil the future of the Internet,” the Republicans, led by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, wrote. They added that they intended to “take every action necessary to ensure that the Internet remains a free, competitive marketplace.”
The substance and bellicose rhetoric of that salvo, however, did not align with a joint statement from a separate batch of Republicans on the House Commerce Committee’s communications and technology panel. Like Thune, the House panel has been working for legislation on net neutrality and pledged to seek compromise with Democrats.
“We believe the Internet has worked well under current rules, but we were—and we remain—willing to come to the table with legislation to answer the calls for legally sustainable consumer protections for the free and open Internet that has fostered a generation of innovation, economic growth, and global empowerment,” the Republican letter said.
Thune, for his part, said he was willing to tweak his legislation to get more Democrats on board. He specifically highlighted concerns that Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, had about language in his bill that would limit powers under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to strike down state laws limiting municipal broadband.
“We don’t want to have an unbounded 706. I think that’s really dangerous,” Thune said. “But we’re willing to listen to their suggestions.”
But Thune conceded his more combative colleagues may ultimately win out. Though he prefers a legislative solution, he said a resolution of disapproval could “certainly be one way” to respond to the FCC’s vote.
And a standoff over the FCC’s budget isn’t out of the question, either.
“Using the funding process could be another way,” Thune said. “I don’t think we’re going to get into a DHS-type situation like this, but I do think that we could, by various riders on appropriations bills, attempt to send that message. So we’ll see—I’m not ruling anything out.”