this Feb. 9, 2016 file photo, Senate Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in
Washington. State and local governments would be
permanently barred from taxing access to the
Internet under a bipartisan compromise the Senate
began pushing toward final congressional approval.
McConnell said Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, the measure
would relieve people of the worry that their
Internet access is being taxed.
voted Thursday to permanently bar state and local
governments from taxing access to the Internet, as
lawmakers leapt at an election-year chance to demonstrate
their opposition to imposing levies on online service.
On a vote of 75-20, the
Senate gave final congressional approval to the
wide-ranging bill, which would also revamp trade laws. The
White House said President Barack Obama will sign it.
"The Internet is a
resource used daily by Americans of all ages," said
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who
brokered an agreement with a Democratic leader earlier
this week that helped clear the way for passage.
"It's important that they be able to do all of this
without the worry of their Internet access being
The ban on local Internet
access taxes had broad support. Even so, some lawmakers
remained unhappy over its trade provisions and because the
measure omitted a separate, more controversial proposal to
let states force online retailers to collect sales taxes
for their transactions.
Senate Minority Leader
Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the bill was full of "missed
opportunities and half-measures."
Since 1998 in the
Internet's early days, Congress has passed a series of
bills temporarily prohibiting state and local governments
from imposing the types of monthly levies for online
access that are common for telephone service. Such
legislation has been inspired by a popular sentiment that
the Internet should be free, along with Republican
opposition to most tax proposals.
Until now, states that
imposed Internet access taxes have been allowed to
continue. Under the approved bill, those states would have
to phase out their taxes by the summer of 2020.
Seven states Hawaii,
New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas and
Wisconsin have been collecting a combined $563 million
yearly from Internet access taxes, according to
information gathered by the nonpartisan Congressional
Forty-nine Republican and
26 Democratic senators backed the legislation Thursday
while 17 Democrats and three Republicans voted
The House approved the
compromise in December with the backing of nearly all
Republicans but just 24 Democrats.
Although Obama planned to
sign the bill, the White House took issue with a provision
opposing the "boycott, divestment and sanctions"
movement against Israel that uses the phrase
"Israeli-controlled territories." White House
spokesman Josh Earnest said the provision contradicts U.S.
policy toward Israeli settlements. U.S. policy considers
Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank to be
"As with any
bipartisan compromise legislation, there are provisions in
this bill that we do not support," Earnest said.
The legislation, especially
its trade provisions, has pitted the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce and other business groups supporting the bill
against opponents including the AFL-CIO and other labor
Supporters say the measure
would strengthen U.S. trading by improving protections for
American intellectual property like copyrights and
trademarks and upgrading trade law enforcement at the
They also cite provisions
reinforcing the government's ability to head off China and
other countries from manipulating their currency to make
their exports more affordable, cracking down on imported
products made with child labor and accelerating
investigations into companies accused of evading the
payment of duties.
complained that its trade protections were insufficient
and said negotiators who wrote the compromise weakened it
significantly, including the currency manipulation
Democrats also disliked
provisions barring trade agreements that would curb some
efforts to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, a major
contributor to climate change, or would force the U.S. to
revamp its immigration laws.
For years, the drive in
Congress to permanently bar taxes on Internet service has
languished alongside another effort to empower states to
require online retailers to collect state and local sales
taxes for online purchases. Supporters of enhancing the
collection of online sales taxes say without that,
brick-and-mortar stores face a competitive disadvantage.
In hopes of gaining
leverage, senators backing the collection of online state
sales taxes have long linked the two efforts.
A breakthrough came this
week when McConnell agreed to hold a vote this year on the
online state sales tax proposal. He reached that deal with
No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin of Illinois, a
strong advocate of the separate Internet sales tax
Even so, some lawmakers
were upset that the sales tax measure would be considered
later, with no guarantee of success.