In a 3-2 vote last week, the Federal Communications Commission voted to overturn 2015 net neutrality rules. The vote was a win for big telecoms companies, who framed the rules as government regulation gone wild. Public opinion is strongly behind net neutrality, however, and that favorability is emboldening Senate Democrats to actually do something.
In a press conference Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined how he’s hoping to stop net neutrality repeal using a legal mechanism called the Congressional Review Act. The CRA, which affords lawmakers the chance to overturn agency actions, used to be a little-used mechanism. But Republicans have wielded its powers broadly in the last year, using it to overturn Obama-era regulations ranging from rules making it harder for the mentally ill to get guns, to preventing the killing of bear cubs in Alaska.
Ironically, it’s the same law that might give Democrats a second shot at preserving net neutrality.
Under the terms of the CRA, a vote on a newly-adopted agency rule can be brought through a petition of 30 Senators. Once that petition is submitted, any member may bring it to a vote on the floor, with only a simple majority needed to pass, and a limit of 10 hours of debate — making it filibuster-proof. Thanks to the fragility of the Republicans’ majority in the Senate and the popularity of net neutrality, it should theoretically be possible for the Democrats to get the votes to move a CRA repeal of net neutrality repeal through the Senate.
“It’s in our power to do that and that’s the beauty of the CRA rule,” Schumer said on Friday. “Sometimes we don’t like them, when they used it to repeal some of the pro-environmental regulations, but now we can use the CRA to our benefit, and we intend to.”
Once the bill is passed through the Senate, however, it has to go back to the House of Representatives, and be signed into law by the President. Given Trump’s proven hatred for any Obama-era regulation, that’s still going to be a tough sell, however.