Nov 17, 2022 - Technology

Antitrust advocates push White House for lame-duck legislation

Illustration of a hand holding a cursor like a knife.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Companies pushing to reel in Big Tech’s behavior convened at the White House Thursday to try and gin up momentum for an antitrust bill in Congress’ lame-duck session.

The big picture: After getting relatively close to passing legislation meant to thwart Big Tech’s anti-competitive practices over the summer, this marks the last tech antitrust push this Congress will have before Republicans take over the House in 2023.

What they're saying: "We're advocating to make sure it gets its shot and put forward for a vote," Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, told Axios exclusively about the Senate's American Innovation and Choice Online Act. "We're really encouraged by their comments, that they're not wavering, competition is important to [President Joe] Biden and nothing has changed on that front."

  • Per Stoppelman, White House antitrust adviser Tim Wu and Louisa Terrell, White House director of the office of legislative affairs, were present at the meeting, among other White House staffers.
  • A White House official confirmed the meeting to Axios saying it was "productive and thoughtful."
  • "Gearing up for the lame duck, met in the Diplomatic room today with Gary Tan of YCombinator, Angela Hooper of Andi, Eric Migicovsky of Beeper and Jeremy Stoppelman and Luther Lowe of Yelp," Wu tweeted. "The White House is committed to moving tech antitrust legislation."

Yes, but: It's not clear if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has shifted on the bill at all. After previously committing to a floor vote in May of this year, he shifted his tone to expressing uncertainty if there were enough "yes" votes for it to pass.

  • Representatives for Schumer's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Schumer has many Democratic priorities to juggle in the lame duck, and different interest groups and members of Congress are all scrambling to get their bills included in year-end must-pass legislation.
  • Advocates point out that Schumer's previous excuse not to move the bill, that it may hurt vulnerable Democrats up for re-election, is no longer a factor.

The other side: Tech sources tell Axios nothing has changed and the bill has no chance.

  • "Senior staff for Senators on both sides of the aisle told me that the spinsters asserting this is a live issue for the lame duck session are essentially checking a rooster for eggs," said Carl Holshouser, senior vice president of tech lobbying group TechNet. "These bills are D-E-A-D."

The intrigue: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a co sponsor, remains committed to the bill and has been telling people it still has 20 Republican votes, a former Republican Senate staffer told Axios.

The bottom line: Whether tech antitrust has any steam left in this Congress very much depends who you ask.

  • "The premise that this is dead is not what we heard from the White House," said Stoppelman.
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