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Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

The powerful Democrat overseeing antitrust legislation wants to hit Big Tech with the legislative equivalent of a swarm of drones rather than a single, hulking battleship that would be simpler to defeat.

Driving the news: In an interview with Axios on Sunday, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said he didn't want to give the major technology companies and their armies of lobbyists the easy target of a massive antitrust bill.

  • Instead, in his role running the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, he plans to craft a series of smaller bills — perhaps 10 or more — that will be ready in May.

Between the lines: The way Cicilline sees it, this small-target strategy achieves two goals:

  1. He has a better chance of finding common ground between Democrats and Republicans on more narrowly targeted issues.
  2. And he makes it harder for Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google to mobilize quickly against reforms they don't like.

Between the lines: "If you look at the way these technology companies have staffed up with their lobbying and the money they're investing in Washington, it's designed ... to prevent any changes to the current ecosystem that benefits them enormously," Cicilline told Axios.

  • "They have literally billions and billions and billions of reasons to try to protect the current system because it produces ... profits not seen on planet Earth."
  • Recognizing this reality, Cicilline said his intention is to use this range of bills to advance all the recommendations in his panel's 450-page investigation into competition in the digital marketplace.

Big picture: "My strategy is you'll see a number of bills introduced, both because it's harder for (the tech companies) to manage and oppose, you know, 10 bills as opposed to one," Cicilline said.

  • "It also is an opportunity for members of the committee who have expressed a real interest or enthusiasm about a particular issue, to sort of take that on and champion it."

Behind the scenes: Outside of his antitrust work, Cicilline also is readying a proposal taking aim at online companies' key protection against liability from users' posts, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

  • Cicilline said his proposal, which is in the early stages, would focus on the decisions companies like Facebook make to amplify content that's posted by users.
  • "That's a very complicated algorithm that is designed to maximize engagement to drive up advertising prices to produce greater profits for the company," Cicilline said. "That whole set of decisions, one could argue, is different than the initial post. That's a set of business decisions for which, it might be quite easy to argue, that a company should be liable for."

The bottom line: Cicilline says he is optimistic the Biden administration will be a partner in the work on antitrust, and that tech companies are wrong if they think the pandemic has brought them a reprieve from government action.

  • "Frankly, the pandemic in many ways made the market dominance of these technologies companies even greater and has demonstrated the monopoly power they have," Cicilline said.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Health

NYC to impose vaccine mandate on private employers

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) on Monday announced a new COVID vaccine mandate for all private companies.

Why it matters: De Blasio, speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said the "first-in-the-nation measure" will go into effect starting Dec. 27. It will apply to approximately 184,000 businesses.

D.C.-Beijing tensions are shifting markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. markets stand to lose $2 trillion in value if D.C. and Beijing drift further apart.

Why it matters: Political chasms are showing up in new securities regulations that put companies and investors in a bind. The rules are also another reflection of how much relations between the world’s largest economies have cooled, even as they remain economically interdependent. 

5 hours ago - Health
Axios Investigates

Documents reveal the secrecy of America's drug pricing matrix

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

American businesses spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on prescription drugs, and the bills keep getting bigger. But some of the companies promising to help rein in those costs prevent employers from looking under the hood.

Why it matters: Documents provided to Axios reveal a new layer of secrecy within the maze of American drug pricing — one in which firms that manage drug coverage for hundreds of employers, representing millions of workers, obscure the details of their work and make it difficult to figure out whether they're actually providing a good deal.