WASHINGTON -- Democratic negotiators blocked a GOP provision to kill net neutrality from a year-end government spending bill released just after 1 a.m. Wednesday, allowing the Federal Communications Commission to go forward in enforcing open Internet rules.
Republicans initially tucked the anti-net neutrality rider into one of the appropriations bills that congressional negotiators then had to put together into an omnibus bill to keep the government running.
The current stopgap funding measure expires Wednesday night. Lawmakers are expected to pass another short-term measure before then, to keep the government running until Dec. 22, while they work on passing the $1.1 trillion omnibus bill. A vote on that will likely come Friday, and that package would keep the government open until October 2016.
"Democratic leaders joined hands and fought hard not only to remove the net neutrality riders but to increase funds for the FCC to keep fighting for consumers," said a Democratic leadership aide who was not authorized to speak on record.
On Feb. 26, the FCC approved strong net neutrality rules that reclassify consumer broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. In other words, it bans "paid prioritization," a practice allowing Internet service providers to charge content producers a premium for giving users more reliable access to that content.
Open Internet advocates were lobbying lawmakers to drop the rider from the final omnibus bill, as opponents became nervous that it would stick around.
The Republican majority will almost certainly need a fair number of Democratic votes to pass the omnibus bill. Those prospects are brighter since riders that would have tightened screening for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and defunded Planned Parenthood were not included.
Late Tuesday night, lawmakers also unveiled a second massive bill that would extend about 50 tax breaks set to expire at the end of the year. It would cost more than $700 billion over 10 years, and House Democratic leaders have already criticized it.
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