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.

ADVERTISEMENT

In addition to DeMint, the letter was signed by GOP Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE (Utah), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneImpeachment threatens to drown out everything Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   Embracing President Mike Pence might be GOP's best play MORE (N.D.), John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Bottom Line MORE (Texas), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonJoe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia Poll: Majority of independent voters want GOP to retain control of Senate in 2020 Embracing President Mike Pence might be GOP's best play MORE (Ga.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security Sunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight MORE (Mo.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen MORE (Ark.), Pat Toomey (Penn.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble Rubio criticizes Warren response on same-sex marriage opposition as condescending 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."