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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is seizing the reins of a powerful Senate panel and gearing up to be a formidable figure in pressing Congress' case against Big Tech.

Driving the news: Klobuchar makes her debut Thursday as the chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, which oversees the agencies charged with policing monopoly power.

The big picture: Thursday's hearing will lay out Klobuchar's ideas for changing antitrust law for the digital age, a sign that she is using her new national stature to put pressure on the tech industry.

  • "We have gotten more interest in antitrust and we are making antitrust cool again," Klobuchar told Axios.
  • She said she sees antitrust moves against tech as part of a larger effort to "rejuvenate capitalism."
  • "We're starting big in terms of talking about the economy as a whole," she said. "Tech is the most obvious, with the gateway issues and all the consolidation. But you've also had consolidation in everything from cat food to caskets and online travel and cable, you name it."

Between the lines: Klobuchar has long been vocal on this issue, but now she can drive the Senate's agenda. In February, she introduced sweeping new antitrust legislation. This week, she re-introduced a bill along with House colleagues on antitrust changes for news media and Big Tech.

  • She is more centrist than some of her Democratic colleagues who work on this issue — more a consensus builder than a firebrand calling for corporate breakups.

Klobuchar has influential friends, thanks to her presidential candidacy. She's close with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a former Judiciary committee member.

  • She's rallied Republican and Democratic members around the idea that the DOJ and FTC should have more resources and funding to pursue big cases.
  • She is also working on a book about antitrust and the digital age, slated for release next month.

What they're saying: Klobuchar said Thursday's hearing is the first in a series focused on antitrust issues, and she's working on getting Republican support for her legislation.

  • Klobuchar says she and ranking Republican for antitrust Mike Lee (R-Utah), agree that there's too much consolidation across various industries and that he's currently reviewing her bill: "Maybe he will join me in parts of it."

Yes, but: Klobuchar and Lee do not always see eye to eye on the appropriate way to handle antitrust issues, despite their friendly relationship.

  • Lee, who has accused Big Tech of censorship, has advocated moving antitrust enforcement to one agency rather than splitting it between the FTC and DOJ, and opposes widening the "consumer welfare" standard, under which monopolies are only judged illegal if they harm consumers.
  • It's a trickier dynamic than in the House, where antitrust lead Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) has benefitted from increasing amounts of support from ranking member Ken Buck (R-Co).

What to watch: Thursday's hearing witnesses include academics and advocates on both sides of the antitrust reform debate, and lawmakers will say whether they support Klobuchar's initial ideas for antitrust legislation this Congress.

  • Watch for how many Republicans find areas where they can agree with Klobuchar and other Democrats, and where Lee and Klobuchar appear to find common ground.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.

Why 401(k) rollovers are so annoying

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If you happened to change jobs recently, you may have tried to transfer your retirement account from your former employer into an Individual Retirement Account or your new employer's 401(k) plan. If so, you probably encountered a bureaucratic gantlet — and you're not alone.

Why it matters: Kludgey processes around retirement account transfers result in people losing track of their funds, giving up important tax advantages, or otherwise disadvantaging themselves and being less prepared for retirement.

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