Feb 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Big Tech antitrust concerns spur bipartisan momentum in Congress

a scale balancing clicks and the capitol building

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats and Republicans might have found an area of sincere, bipartisan unity: making it harder for Big Tech companies to complete mergers and acquisitions.

Why it matters: This is a mixed bag for tech startups. On the one hand, it could slow the growth of mega-platforms, thus giving startups more breathing room. On the other hand, it could limit liquidity options.

Driving the news: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) on Thursday unveiled legislation to forbid mergers that "create an appreciable risk of materially lessening competition," Axios' Ashley Gold and Margaret Harding McGill report.

  • This would apply to all large companies, including Big Tech.
  • Current law only bars mergers that demonstrably reduce competition. In other words, Klobuchar's bill is aimed at the circumstances facing regulators when Facebook bought Instagram.
  • The bill would also bar dominant firms from conduct that puts competitors at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Klobuchar is being joined by Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey and tells Axios that she's coordinating with her antitrust counterparts in the House and reaching out to Republicans for support.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday proposed a "preemptive prohibition" on acquisitions by Big Tech companies.

  • Hawley's effort is structured as an amendment to Congress' proposed budget resolution, and would effectively ask Congress to determine which companies apply (although, in a press release, Hawley specifically cited both Amazon and Google).
  • Hawley is senatora non grata right now, but his language hews fairly close to a recommendation made last fall by Democrats on the House antitrust subcommittee.
  • Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) was just named that subcommittee's ranking member, and said that going after anticompetitive behavior by Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple was a top priority.

What's next: Klobuchar plans multiple hearings related to the antitrust package, focusing on different sectors of the economy, saying that she intends to make these preludes to legislative action and not ends in themselves.

  • "Having a few hearings where you're, like, sitting at a movie throwing popcorn at a screen — at the CEOs — isn't gonna be enough," she said. "We have to get something done."
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