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Patrick Semansky / AP

Congressional Democrats have decided that bashing big business is their path back to power, with a new populist message that borrows heavily from both Donald Trump and Teddy Roosevelt.

  • The "A Better Deal" plan released Monday is aimed at eliminating corporate monopolies, whether created organically or via large mergers. It claims that such concentration of economic power is a net negative for employment, competition, and consumer choice. The bigger the badder.
  • This might be an area where Democrats and the Bannon wing of Trump's WH see eye-to-eye, and stand in opposition to GOP orthodoxy. If that sort of alliance were to form, it could send shivers from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
  • What Democrats want: A complete shakeup of antitrust enforcement, which currently seeks to discover if a proposed merger would result in less competition and harm consumers.

Democrats now want the Federal Trade Commission and other regulators to presume that large mergers are de facto anti-competitive, and that it is incumbent on the applicants to prove otherwise. They also want regulators to keep an eye on already-merged companies, in order to ensure compliance with terms of approval, and to create a new "consumer competition advocate" that would field complaints about, and investigate, potentially exploitative practices.How we got here: Progressives forces for years have pushed for more antitrust enforcement, and it's slowly gained traction within the Democratic Party. Last year, for example, there was an antitrust enforcement plank in the Party platform. "The process is not as quick as it looks," says Matt Stoller, a critic of corporate consolidation and a fellow with the New America Foundation. "It's just this is the moment where the Democrats have placed concentration at the center of their agenda, but they've been learning about it for a while."Democrats explicitly identified five industries: Cable/telecom (read: AT&T buying Time Warner), airlines, beer, food and eyeglasses. But Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also threw Silicon Valley tech companies into the mix, suggesting to Recode (before the official rollout of the new agenda) that regulators should "take a look at Google."Worth noting: A fact sheet on the new antitrust platform says that in "an increasingly data-driven society, merger standards must explicitly consider the ways in which control of consumer data can be used to stifle competition or jeopardize consumer privacy." Internet firms weren't mentioned by name, as was the case with companies in other industries Democrats are focused on. But it's still a statement that raises questions for the Silicon Valley giants.On the other hand: Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tells Axios that while he believes America needs to revisit its understanding of monopolies, he isn't yet ready to castigate particular industries: "I don't think we should target any sector, but I don't think we should hold harmless any sector either."Tentative smiles: A tougher regulatory line for corporate mergers could be a small ray of sunshine for private equity firms, which are typically at a disadvantage to corporate buyers. On the other hand, it could make exiting investments more difficult.What's next? Likely nothing too substantive in the short-term, particularly given that Democrats are not in a great position to insist on hearings or oversight investigations. But the AT&T-Time Warner deal could prove a political flashpoint. If regulators let it go through, then Democrats can use it as a potent campaign prop, given that cable companies and Internet service providers are barely more popular than Congress itself. If they block it — a move favored by then-candidate Trump — then it could help give the "Better Deal" platform more pragmatic validity.

Go deeper

Anti-Trump lawmakers' private security expenses ballooned after Jan. 6 riot

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on April 14. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Image

Members of Congress are spending tens of thousands of dollars on personal security for them and their families in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot, according to an analysis of first-quarter Federal Election Commission reports by Punchbowl News.

Between the lines: Private security expenditures were especially common among anti-Trump Republicans and high-profile Democrats who earlier this year voted to impeach and convict the former president for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, signaling they fear for the safety of themselves and their families.

1 hour ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of the city's most prominent pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.

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