Senate Republicans fire warning shot at regulators as Google decision looms

Ten Republican senators led by Jim DeMint (S.C.) warned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Thursday not to stretch its regulatory powers.

The letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz does not explicitly mention Google, but amounts to a clear warning to tread carefully as the agency considers whether to sue the Web giant over alleged antitrust violations.

"In the interest of providing more regulatory certainty for American consumers and job creators, we urge the Federal Trade Commission to act with humility and restrain itself to activities for which it has clear legal authority," the senators wrote.

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In addition to DeMint, the letter was signed by GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchPhRMA CEO 'hopeful' Trump officials will back down on drug pricing move Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney MORE (Utah), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRove warns Senate GOP: Don't put only focus on base Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (N.D.), John CornynJohn CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (Texas), Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying MORE (Ga.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell: Senate won't override Trump veto on shutdown fight Senate immigration talks fall apart Emergency declaration option for wall tests GOP MORE (Mo.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Ark.), Pat Toomey (Penn.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWashington fears new threat from 'deepfake' videos Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal MORE (Fla.).

DeMint, one of the most conservative members of the Senate, is in line to become the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee in the next Congress. The panel has jurisdiction over the FTC.

The FTC declined to comment.

The agency is concerned that Google is manipulating its search results to ensure that its own services, such as YouTube, Google Maps and Google Shopping, appear above its rivals.

Google's competitors argue that the company shouldn't be allowed to use its dominant search engine — which has about a 67 percent market share — to stifle competition for other services.

The company says there is nothing unfair about its search rankings. Even if the results did boost Google products, the company says, it wouldn’t be illegal.

People familiar with the case say that after a yearlong investigation, the commission staffers have concluded there is reason to believe Google is violating antitrust laws and have recommended that the commission take action.

The commissioners are currently reviewing that recommendation.

Chairman Leibowitz has argued that the FTC has the authority to bring a "pure Section 5" suit against Google, which is when the agency sues a company for anti-competitive conduct without having to prove it harms consumers.

The Republican senators said they take no position on any pending cases, but they said they are "concerned about the apparent eagerness of the Commission under your leadership to expand Section 5 actions without a clear indication of authority or a limiting principle."

"When a federal regulatory agency uses creative theories to expand its activities, entrepreneurs may be deterred from innovating and growing lest they be targeted by government action," they wrote.

They said they are especially concerned that overreaching regulation could stifle growth in the vibrant technology sector.

"We hope the Commission considers the consequences of hampering legitimate business model innovations and market activities of companies under an aimless, expansive, and possibly unauthorized use of the Commission's powers," they wrote. "We support innovation and believe economic expansion will follow if the government acts with humility rather than experimentation."