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The Democratic leaders of a House committee and subcommittee are protesting the plan of the majority leadership to limit debate this week on a measure that would seek to overturn the net neutrality rules the Federal Communications Commission approved in December.
Republican committee leaders are planning to consider the resolution of disapproval at a markup hearing Wednesday morning, and informed the Democrats last week that members would not be permitted to offer amendments during the proceeding.
Today, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the panel's Internet subcommittee, and the subcommittee's Democratic members sent a letter (available here in PDF format) to their Republican counterparts objecting to the move, and asking for a different procedural mechanism for the net neutrality repeal effort.
"This is a major departure from the Committee's tradition of transparency and an extraordinary silencing of its members," they wrote.
The Democrats appealed to the majority leadership to abandon the joint resolution that they are backing under the Congressional Review Act, a statute that provides for legislative oversight of executive regulations. Under the provisions of the act, the backers of a resolution can proceed to a vote without allowing the introduction and debate of amendments.
"We recognize there is disagreement about the role of the commission with respect to the Internet, but we do not believe that justifies denying us the right to amend your legislation," the Democrats wrote. "We also understand that under this law, you have the power to deny us the ability to debate and vote on amendments. But the fact that you have this power does not make using it right."
A spokeswoman for the Subcommitte on Communications and Technology defended the majority's approach, citing remarks Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made in 1995 during the floor debate over the Congressional Review Act.
"As Senator Harry Reid said, the process is a 'reasonable, sensible approach to regulatory reform', and that is why the committee will use the tools provided under the CRA to allow Congress to have its say on whether the government should be regulating the Internet," the spokeswoman told InternetNews.com in an email.
Waxman, Eshoo and the minority members are asking Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chair of the Internet subcommittee, to abandon the Congressional Review Act resolution and proceed with a separate resolution on the net neutrality rules under regular legislative procedure, giving them the chance to submit amendments under the normal markup process.
Today's letter is the latest move in the back-and-forth between Republican and Democratic lawmakers in response to the FCC's open Internet order, rules that GOP members argue will impose burdensome new regulations on broadband service providers.
Just last week, Waxman and Eshoo prevailed on the House subcommittee leadership to hold a hearing on the resolution of disapproval, a request Upton and Walden granted, shelving plans to bring the measure directly to a vote last week. Instead, the subcommittee plans to mark up the resolution following the hearing.
In advance of that proceeding, Upton and the subcommittee leaders have asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to submit details about the rationale behind the net neutrality rules by the end of Monday, asking for information related to areas such as the economic and legal analyses the agency conducted before approving the order.
Updated to add comment from subcommittee spokeswoman.