It’s easy to forget that the Republican Party is still capable of the occasional surprise. Its members have grown so accustomed to anti-governmental rhetoric that I’ve lost the raw sense of disbelief that accompanied some of their more absurdist speeches four or five years ago.
And then are moments like today. The Federal Communications Commission voted today to open its proposed net neutrality rules for a four-month period of public comment starting now. The chairman of the Commission, Tom Wheeler (himself a former telecom lobbyist), is pushing for an ersatz version of “net neutrality” in which there are no slow lanes, only fast ones. (If that doesn’t sound logical to you, it’s probably because you’re not an Internet service provider.)
This is bad enough. But there was a nugget in the New York Times article on the day’s events that especially caught my eye:
The two Republican members, who voted against the plan, said that it exceeded the agency’s legal authority, that there had been no evidence of actual harm or deviation from net neutrality principles and that elected members of Congress should decide the issue, not regulatory appointees.
Ajit Pai, the senior Republican on the commission, said all the members shared “some important common ground: namely, a bipartisan consensus in favor of a free and open Internet.”
But, he added, “a dispute this fundamental is not for us, five unelected individuals, to decide. Instead, it should be resolved by the people’s elected representatives, those who choose the direction of government, and those whom the American people can hold accountable for that choice.”
The fifth commissioner, Michael O’Rielly, was the most forceful in his dissent. “The premise for imposing net neutrality rules is fundamentally flawed and rests on a faulty foundation of make-believe statutory authority,” he said.
Is it just me, or is it patently insane for two of the FCC’s duly-appointed five commissioners — whose self-described mission is to “[regulate] interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories” — to actively lobby against their own employer’s stated purpose?
It’s one thing for, say, a Treasury Secretary or Federal Reserve chairman to make a judgment call on anti-inflation measures or quantitative easing or liquidity injection. It would be quite another thing entirely for Janet Yellen to abruptly decide that returning to the gold standard is the correct approach, and then proceed to actively sabotage the work of her own central bank. That is what’s happening here with the FCC, and it should be a scandal.