The House on Thursday passed antitrust legislation aimed at dominance of big tech companies by giving states greater power in competition cases and increasing money for federal regulators.
The bipartisan measure passed by a vote of 242-184. It was separated from more ambitious provisions aimed at reining in Meta, Google, Amazon and Apple and passed key House and Senate committees. Those proposals have languished for months, giving companies time to lobby vigorously against them.
The narrower bill would give states an advantage over businesses in choosing the location of the courts that decide federal antitrust cases. Advocates say this change would avoid the “home advantage” that big tech companies enjoy in federal courts in Northern California, where many of the cases are tried and where many of the companies are based.
Many state attorneys general have brought antitrust cases against the industry, and many states joined the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission in their landmark lawsuits against Google and Meta (then called Facebook), respectively, in late 2020.
The bill would also increase the filing fees companies pay to federal agencies for all proposed mergers worth $500 million or more, while lowering fees for small and midsize transactions. The goal is to increase revenue for federal enforcement efforts.
Under the bill, companies seeking merger approval would have to disclose subsidies they received from countries deemed to pose strategic or economic risks to the United States, especially China.
“We are in a monopoly moment as a country,” Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts, said before the vote. “Billion dollar corporations have become giants, eliminating any real competition in their industries and using their dominance to harm small businesses and consumers. Meta’s monopoly power has allowed it to harm women, children and people of all walks of life.” ages without recourse. Amazon has used its dominance to copy competitors’ products and drive small businesses to the ground.”
The Biden administration, which has pushed for antitrust legislation targeting Big Tech, endorsed the bill this week.
The legislation drew fierce opposition from conservative Republicans who split from fellow Republicans who supported the bill. Conservatives opposed the proposed revenue increase for antitrust regulators, arguing that the FTC has blatantly overreached during Joe Biden’s presidency.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., described FTC leader Lina Khan as “a radical leftist who seeks to replace consumer decisions with her own.”
Another California Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa, told his colleagues, “If you want to stifle innovation, vote for this.”
If Republicans win control of the House or Senate in the November elections, they will surely seek to undermine the FTC’s activism and challenge its broader interpretation of its legal authority.
Broader antitrust proposals would prevent powerful tech companies from favoring their own products and services over rivals on their platforms and could even lead to mandatory breakups separating the companies’ dominant platforms from their other businesses. They could, for example, prevent Amazon from steering consumers to its own brands and away from competing products on its giant e-commerce platform.
The drafting of that legislation marked a new twist in Congress’s effort to curb the dominance of tech giants and anti-competitive practices that critics say have hurt consumers, small businesses and innovation. But the proposal is complex and has drawn objections to some provisions from lawmakers of both parties, though all condemn the conduct of the tech giants.
Lawmakers have faced a delicate task in trying to tighten the reins on a powerful industry whose services, mostly free or nearly free, are popular with consumers and integrated into daily life.
So, with time to act as the November election looms in about six weeks, lawmakers pulled out the less controversial provisions about antitrust court locations and merger filing fees, including them in the new bill. that was approved.
Lawmakers added the provision targeting foreign subsidies to US companies. Republicans have especially criticized Chinese ownership of the popular video platform TikTok.
In the Senate, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar is sponsoring similar legislation with Republicans Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah.
“Effective enforcement of antitrust laws is critical to ensuring that consumers and small businesses have a chance to compete,” Ms. Klobuchar said in a statement on Thursday. “Enforcers can’t take on the biggest companies the world has ever known with duct tape and Band-Aids.”
This story was reported by The Associated Press.