Jul 21, 2022 - Technology

Congress' push to regulate Big Tech is fizzling out

Illustration of a cursor arrow drooping downward

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Hopes for a congressional vote this summer on a major tech antitrust bill have all but fizzled out as the August recess quickly approaches.

The big picture: It's more likely than ever that this Congress will push efforts to pass Big Tech competition rules into the fall, where they will face slim chances with lawmakers distracted by midterm elections.

  • If an autumn push fails, competition regulation will have to wait for the new Congress — and if the GOP takes back congressional control, it's unlikely to be a top priority.

Catch up quick: The American Innovation and Competition Online Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would ban Big Tech companies from favoring their own services in an anticompetitive way.

  • For example, Apple would have to allow third party payment systems and Google could not surface its reviews over others in search results.
  • The Senate bill is a companion to a similar House bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee last summer.

Driving the news: The American Innovation and Competition Online Act has bipartisan support. But floor time is dwindling as a list of Democratic priorities, including budget reconciliation and protecting same-sex marriage, take precedence.

  • The Senate is only in session until Aug. 5 and Congress' main tech priority is to pass a narrow version of a chips bill meant to bolster American tech manufacturing.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was aiming for a summer antitrust vote if the bill had 60 backers, Axios previously reported. A count from the Washington Post found that fewer than 60 senators publicly back the bill.

What they're saying: Supporters are grappling with the idea that their bill may not see floor time until after the August recess, per conversations with sources from advocacy groups and companies pushing for a vote.

  • One Hill aide told Axios the bill's backers see the fall, often a dead zone for bipartisan legislation before midterm elections, as a "viable option" because of the legislation's range of support.
  • "Chuck Schumer promised a vote. Klobuchar and Grassley have been consistent that they have 60 votes," a former Senate aide close to the conversations told Axios. "They're still pushing for this summer before the work period ends, but if not, you'll see a very consistent and concerted effort to try and get this done in the fall."
  • "I am working with Sen. Klobuchar. I support these bills. I want to bring them to the floor. We have to see if we have 60 votes," Schumer said at a news conference Wednesday.
  • "We have a strong bipartisan coalition in both the House and Senate pushing this bill forward... We continue to work towards having a floor vote on this legislation as quickly as possible," Klobuchar said in a statement to Axios.

Yes, but: Advocates tell Axios that if the bill hits the floor at any point before a new Congress is sworn in, it will pass with at least 60 yes votes.

  • They say members of Congress are simply keeping their votes private until it's time to actually vote, fearing pressure and lobbying from Big Tech if they publicly support the policy.

Flashback: The House began this current antitrust legislative push in 2020, with a sweeping report charging the biggest U.S. tech companies, including Meta, Amazon, Apple and Google, with putting their own products and services ahead of competitors'.

  • House members introduced five separate bills accompanying the report, most of which have not seen much movement.
  • The lobbying battle has been intense, with Big Tech and its advocacy groups dropping millions on TV and online advertisements opposing the effort.
Go deeper