Congressional Republicans are once again accusing the Obama administration of violating the Constitution.
This time, it has nothing to do with Obamacare and everything to do with the Web — specifically, a Commerce Department plan to shift some federal Internet responsibilities to a global nonprofit known as ICANN.
As part of the process, the United States risks giving away a form of federal property, according to GOP presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and other high-ranking Republicans, including Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Reps. Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Darrell Issa (Calif.). Because only Congress is authorized to "transfer government property," the group says in a letter to the Government Accountability Office, President Obama's attempts to do so without lawmakers' permission amounts to a breach of constitutional law.
The "property" Republicans are referring to is known as the root zone file, a part of the system that helps turn Web addresses into numbers that computers can understand. Management of the overall system has technically been the Commerce Department's responsibility. But for years, it's contracted that function out to ICANN, which under the transition would formally take over the job.
Republicans have sought to block or delay the transition for months, arguing that it would give other members of ICANN, such as China or Russia, greater say in how the Internet should run. Ultimately, some lawmakers have said, rival nations could use this newfound influence to impose their will on the Web and what consumers can see there.
That isn't quite how ICANN works, organization officials have said; government members have no decision-making authority and thus couldn't carry out what Republicans fear.
That hasn't stopped the GOP from trying to put the brakes on. In June, the House passed legislation that would require the Commerce Department, before moving ahead with its plan, to certify to Congress that the transition would uphold the Internet's security and openness. Cruz has sought to delay the transition by holding up the Senate's version of the House bill, known in both chambers as the Dotcom Act.
The GOP's latest attempt to slow things down is, predictably, drawing fire from Democrats.
"This has been the fringe position from the far right," said Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "The Dotcom Act, though, represents a bipartisan consensus on the issue and the widely-accepted reading of the constitution. The bill had strong support in the House — passing by an overwhelming vote of 378 to 25."