It's no secret that many Republicans hate the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, which went into effect this June and regulate Internet providers like legacy telephone companies. Some now want to use Congress' power of the purse to roll those regulations back.
If it works, Congress could forbid the FCC from using its budget to enforce net neutrality and give Internet providers a come-from-behind victory.
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that contains an amendment singling out the FCC and net neutrality. Notably, the rider would prohibit the FCC from using its most powerful regulatory tool to police Internet providers — Title II of the Communications Act.
Companies such as Verizon and Comcast have argued that Title II is too heavy-handed, and could lead to the government directly setting the prices of Internet and phone service.
A similar funding bill in the House goes even further, blocking the FCC from enforcing any of the net neutrality regulations until an industry lawsuit to overturn the rules gets resolved. Oral arguments in that case are expected in December or January.
But would President Obama even sign a funding bill that has an anti-net neutrality rider attached? This is a tricky question that wraps in a lot of non-tech issues: If the bill gets to the Oval Office, Obama would have to choose between an issue that he has strongly supported and the continued functioning of the federal government. It's a tough call, and could go either way.
But it probably won't even come to that, because Republicans appear split on these funding bill riders. Ultimately, this disagreement over strategy may be what foils the amendments.
While the lawmakers who do appropriations clearly want to defund net neutrality using their budgeting powers, leaders of the key committees that oversee the FCC, such as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), have been trying to come up with their own bill on net neutrality.
Efforts to push the defunding language forward complicates Thune and Upton's own cause. A top Democrat who's been working with Thune, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), told the Hill Wednesday that their "real progress … [could be] undermined if lawmakers try to fiddle with the FCC in a funding bill."
If push comes to shove, expect these lawmakers to resist any attempt to legislate net neutrality through the funding process.