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Legislators favor stronger antitrust enforcement laws

November 16, 2020

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, ranking member of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, both say they will work across the aisle to get bipartisan support to pass major comprehensive antitrust legislation in the next Congress.

Democratic legislators at the ABA Antitrust Form expressed optimism about passing legislation to enhance antitrust law enforcement.

Democratic legislators at the ABA Antitrust Form expressed optimism about passing legislation to enhance antitrust law enforcement.

Getty Images / Tim Graham

“The time has come. We can’t just keep talking the talk and we can’t wait on the courts to get this right. It is on us,” Klobuchar said in a keynote speech at the Antitrust Fall Forum held Nov. 12. 

Speaking on the forum’s theme — “The Future of Antitrust” — the Democratic legislators expressed optimism about passing legislation to enhance antitrust law enforcement and outlined the work of their respective committees.

In the past Congress, Cicilline said his subcommittee focused on three critical areas of the economy — health care, labor and digital markets. Health care markets lack robust competition, he said, leading to rising costs of prescription drugs. The labor markets are highly concentrated, which gives employers with market power the incentive and ability to lower wages and reduce benefits. And the digital market — with big tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — has shifted from competition to monopoly.

A 16-month investigation by his subcommittee into online markets produced a 450-page report released last month.

“We found that Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple each serve as gatekeepers over key channels of distribution of the digital economy,” Cicilline said. “Not only are they dominant, but the evidence showed that they abuse their dominance by exploiting firms that rely on their platforms and excluding rivals.”

Although there are some differences between the recommendations proposed in the report and by some of his Republican colleagues, Cicilline said “there is widespread agreement on the facts” and that the committee will work in the lame-duck session and the next Congress to “modernize the antitrust laws for the 21st century.”

Klobuchar, who has introduced several pieces of antitrust legislation over the years, said the U.S. has a “monopoly problem that isn’t just about big tech companies but cuts across our entire economy.”

She acknowledged that the House report and the Justice Department’s recent lawsuit against Google over what it calls anticompetitive search services are both good starts but said more needs to be done. She offered four remedies that her various bills propose:

  1. Fund more effective enforcement by updating merger filing fees for the first time since 2001 and increasing appropriations. Megamergers (worth more than $5 billion) would have to pay a filing fee of $2.5 million.
  2. Update laws to help stop harmful consolidation. 
  3. Outlaw exclusionary conduct by providing a tool to address anticompetitive conduct by dominant firms. 
  4. Give the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department the ability to issue serious civil fines for monopolization offenses under the Sherman Act.

“If we just keep letting bigger and bigger companies exercise monopoly power, we are going to lose the race in the long term,” Klobuchar said.

Also delivering keynote addresses at the forum were Joseph J. Simons, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and Makan Delrahim, Department of Justice assistant attorney general and head of the Antitrust Division. 

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