What’s in Senator Klobuchar’s Antitrust Bill?
One of the big policy stories coming out of Congress is Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s introduction of the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act, a broad measure aimed at strengthening antitrust regulation in the United States.
What’s noticeably absent, but obviously implied in Sen. Klobuchar’s bill, is the target. Big tech isn’t mentioned once in the 56-page-bill, but you would have to be living in a different century to realize this is another push toward breaking up big tech conglomerates.
In a Fast Company interview, Klobuchar basically clarified that big tech is the target, and the government needs bigger budgets and more lawyers to take on the trillion dollar companies like Apple and Amazon.
You can read the bill text here.
A big change in Sen. Klobuchar’s bill is the change in legal policy. The “switch in scrutiny” means that companies, not regulators, will bear the burden of proof requirement compared to the previous precedent that put the majority of the work on federal regulators like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
The bill language says that simple, cost-effective decision rules must be established “that require the parties to certain acquisitions that, either significantly increase concentration or are extremely large bear the burden of establishing that, the acquisition will not materially harm competition…”
According to Sen. Klobuchar’s press release on the bill, another key part of the bill is larger budgets for FTC and the DOJ’s Antitrust Division to “fulfill their missions and protect competition by bringing enforcement actions against the richest, most sophisticated companies in the world.”
Other provisions in the bill include updated legal standards for mergers and creates a new division of market analysis within the FTC.
Sen. Klobuchar is the new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee, so her antitrust bill is as big a policy statement as any. She is also publishing a new book, Antitrust, in April 2021, so it is clear the marketing and PR blitz is on for team Klobuchar.
Standard Oil, Microsoft, even AT&T are examples of antitrust we all know well. The grandfathers of all antitrust laws, the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, and the Clayton Act and Federal Trade Commission Act in 1914 make up a kind of “holy trinity” of antitrust laws to protect competition.
Congressional ire directed at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple has been gaining momentum for the past couple of years. Threatened executive action on Section 230, bipartisan grilling of tech CEOs over Zoom, and state investigations into big tech preceded the U.S. House of Representatives’ exhausting antitrust report released last October.
It is clear that big tech is the next big antitrust case study. Sen. Klobuchar’s bill is the next attempt to modernize federal antitrust enforcement.
Bartlett Cleland, Pacific Research Institute tech fellow, has spoken at length about the narrow window, probably the next 12 to 18 months – to get a law passed through Congress that reins in “big tech.” While he discussed a federal data privacy bill, the argument is still valid when it comes to antitrust laws.
Sen. Klobuchar’s bill, along with federal and state lawsuits, will probably be a key piece in determining what big tech looks like in the future. More competition and choice for consumers is always welcome and large monopolies should be regulated if they hurt the free market.
For all the grumbling, companies like Amazon and Apple have made life during a global pandemic largely bearable.
The Minnesota senator said, “This isn’t about punishing success. We’re proud that we have a strong technology sector in our economy. It’s very, very important.” We can only hope that her bill leads to more competition and diversity, and not just growing big government budgets.
Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach coordinator for PRI.