Apr 12, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Hawley unveils "trust-busting" plan

Illustration of an elephant circling a giant cursor

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Corporate giants would be barred from acquisitions and century-old antitrust laws would get sharper teeth under a new proposal by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) shared exclusively with Axios.

The big picture: Hawley is among the Senate's most conservative members, but his attack on corporate power wouldn't sound out of place on Elizabeth Warren's or Bernie Sanders' agenda.

  • That's how deeply Republicans' anger at what they see as out-of-control "censorship" by Big Tech and overreaching activism by "woke corporations" has alienated some of the party from its traditional big-business base.

Details: Hawley's "Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act" would ...

  • Ban mergers and acquisitions by firms with a market cap over $100 billion
  • Lower the threshold for prosecution under existing federal antitrust laws, replacing the prevalent "consumer harm" standard with one that emphasizes "the protection of competition"
  • Require companies that lose federal antitrust lawsuits to "forfeit all their profits resulting from monopolistic conduct"
  • Give the Federal Trade Commission new power to designate and regulate "dominant digital firms" in different online markets

What they're saying: "This country and this government shouldn't be run by a few mega-corporations," Hawley told Axios. The Republican Party "has got to become the party of trust-busting once again. You know, that's a part of our history."

  • Hawley said "globalization" and "both parties getting comfortable with corporate consolidation" were responsible for a market failure that justifies strong intervention.
  • "We tried it the way that the big corporatists wanted," he said, "and it hasn't been a success for the American consumer, for the American producer, or for the American economy."

Of note: Hawley's plan is more than a salvo against Silicon Valley. Its rules on mergers, for instance, would cover dozens of U.S. giants in virtually every economic sector, from banking and health to retail and media.

Between the lines: Aren't people going to be confused by this tough-on-business proposal from a member of the party of business? Hawley offers two responses:

  • "Trust-busting" was a Republican concept originally, under Progressive-Era GOP president Teddy Roosevelt.
  • Strong antitrust laws are ultimately about the sanctity of competition, and Republicans ought to embrace that.

What to watch: Hawley's ideas might win some support from other populist Republicans, but the broader party would need a sea-change in thinking to embrace it. Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to prefer their own bills.

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