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Senate appropriations committee passes funding measure to de-fang FCC net neutrality order

While Republicans lost the net neutrality fight at the Federal Communications Commission, they’re winning the fight in Congress. So far.

The Senate appropriations committee followed the House appropriations committee in leveraging the power of the purse in an attempt to neuter the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality order.

Inserted in the Senate FY 2016 financial service and general government appropriations bill is a provision that prohibits the FCC from regulating Internet rates under the net neutrality order. The House financial services appropriations bill goes further by prohibiting the FCC from spending any funds to enforce the net neutrality order.

The Senate bill budgets $320 million for the FCC, $20 million below the 2015 budget. It also grandfathers all TV station joint sales agreements that would have to be unwound under an FCC rule passed last year in a party line vote.

Democrats offered a broad amendment that would cut all these provisions, as well as a host of other riders in the budget measure, but were turned down in a party line vote.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) warned the majority that the FCC rider could undermine the discussions between Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on a legislative alternative to replace the FCC’s order that would make the net neutrality principles law, but stop short of reclassifying Internet service providers as common carriers.

“In order to respect that process, it’s important to give it a little space,” Schatz said.

Republicans have talked about a net neutrality bill, but the effort hasn’t made much headway. House commerce chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) recently said that, until the court challenges to the order are resolved, “forget bipartisan net neutrality legislation for now.”

The financial services and general government appropriations bill funds a diverse group of 25 agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service. The Senate bill would also put the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the committee’s jurisdiction, instead of direct funding from the Federal Reserve, and replaces the single head of the agency with five commissioners.

There’s still a ways to go on both the House and Senate bills, if they pass the floor and if they can survive the veto pen.