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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

2 hours ago - World

Special report: Trump's U.S.-China transformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he had promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, however, Trump was no longer the public face of China policy-making as he became increasingly consumed with domestic troubles, giving his top aides carte blanche to pursue a cascade of tough-on-China policies.

Why it matters: Trump alone did not reshape the China relationship. But his trade war shattered global norms, paving the way for administration officials to pursue policies that just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.

McConnell: Trump "provoked" Capitol mob

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was "provoked by the president and other powerful people."

Why it matters: Trump was impeached by the House last week for "incitement of insurrection." McConnell has not said how he will vote in Trump's coming Senate impeachment trial, but sources told Axios' Mike Allen that the chances of him voting to convict are higher than 50%.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP leaders skip Trump sendoff in favor of church with Biden

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in July. Photo by Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images

Congressional leaders, including House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will skip President Trump's departure ceremony in Maryland tomorrow morning in favor of attending mass with incoming President Joe Biden ahead of his inauguration, congressional sources familiar with their plans tell Axios.

Why it matters: Their decision is a clear sign of unity before Biden takes the oath of office.

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