The antitrust package is a Trojan horse conservatives must reject
To paraphrase philosopher P.J. O’Rourke, giving more money and power to the Biden administration is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
Yet on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will markup a package of “antitrust” bills that would give unelected Biden bureaucrats new power to regulate the economy. Several Republicans have co-sponsored the bills because of legitimate anger at Big Tech.
The problem? These rushed bills do absolutely nothing to address conservative censorship. Instead, these bills would import European antitrust policy and increase corporate and government abuse of conservative voices and organizations.
These antitrust bills are not conservative. Americans for Tax Reform and a coalition of over 25 conservative groups and activists oppose this Trojan horse antitrust package. Conservative leaders like House Judiciary Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have also sounded the alarm about the Democratic Party’s antitrust power grab.
The package at large moves American antitrust law away from the long-held consumer welfare standard to a European-style “abuse of dominance” standard. Antitrust law under the consumer welfare standard is designed to protect consumers and the competitive process, not individual competitors in a market. Instead of bringing antitrust cases against companies that harm consumers, bureaucrats would target companies above a government-determined size with predatory litigation for beating their rivals, an essential element of competition. Such an approach would stifle economic growth and deliver Europe’s low levels of innovation and ingenuity.
The bills, spearheaded by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), would impose new government regulations on so-called covered platforms, defined as a company with over 50 million monthly users and $600 billion in market cap or annual sales. While only the covered platform designation currently targets the “Big Four” tech companies, the designation is a one-way ratchet designed to ensnare innovative companies as they grow more successful. While Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple are being targeted today, Microsoft, Tesla, Walmart and many others could be on the chopping block tomorrow.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), would give bureaucrats the power to determine if a targeted company is operating a business that could be a “conflict of interest.” If so, the company has two years to sell off the offending business or face steep civil fines of up to 30 percent of annual revenue. The Cicilline bill would effectively ban targeted companies from selling or promoting their own private label goods to shoppers, which makes about as much sense as banning a grocery store from selling generic cereal.
Another bill sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) would outlaw a broad range of new acquisitions by targeted companies, which would choke off a critical pathway to success for startup companies. At the same time, the bill flips the burden of proof in certain antitrust cases, assuming companies accused of anticompetitive conduct are guilty until proven innocent. This would stunt economic growth as we try to rebound from the pandemic.
Even the more innocuous-sounding bills have huge problems. The ACCESS Act would force targeted companies to disclose sensitive customer data to competitors via a government-mandate interface in the name of “interoperability,” creating serious privacy concerns in an era of increased ransomware attacks. The bill would also create technical committees tasked with monitoring the activities of each covered platform, making unelected Biden bureaucrats the de facto board of directors of each company this package targets. Another bill would give more money to the Biden administration’s FTC and DOJ.
This antitrust sham clearly does nothing to stop or even limit conservative censorship.
Instead, this European-style antitrust package will give Biden bureaucrats the power to screw up the goods and services Americans use every day. The bills would ban Apple from blocking the removal of pre-installed iMessage or FaceTime apps on all devices. Amazon could no longer offer free Prime shipping on some products or sell AmazonBasics products. Google could not prioritize YouTube links or Google Maps directions when you search them. The list goes on and on.
If you give the left more government power, they will use that new power to gain even more power. Democrats will not stop this power grab after imposing heavy-handed new regulations on technology companies. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has made it clear that she believes antitrust law is a weapon the left can use to target every industry from “cat food to caskets.” This package is simply a test run.
Conservatives understandably concerned about Big Tech censorship should not vote to empower Biden bureaucrats to “fix” the problem. Giving the government even more power, especially during a Democratic administration, would make things worse. Never trust a headline to accurately reflect the news, or trust the name proponents give legislation. Read the bill. The Cicilline antitrust package is a left-wing power grab.
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.
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