Klobuchar to introduce omnibus antitrust bill

Bonnie Cash

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is set to introduce an ambitious bill Thursday aimed at strengthening competition laws and revamping antitrust enforcement.

The Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act combines a bevy of existing proposals into one omnibus bill that lays out Democrats’ strategy for tackling monopolization across the economy.

The first proposal of the lengthy legislation is focused on making anticompetitive mergers more difficult by amending the Clayton Act.

It would add a risk-based standard to the foundational antitrust law and clarify that mergers that create a monopsony violate it.

The bill introduced by Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, would also seek to shift the burden to parties seeking a merger to prove that they would not create a risk of lessening competition.

The legislation lists out several categories of mergers that would pose such a risk, including acquisitions by a dominant firm with 50 percent market share, acquisitions of disruptive firms by competitors and mega-merger transactions valued at $5 billion or more.

The other major proposal in the bill seeks to increase the effectiveness of the government’s two antitrust enforcers, the Justice Department’s antitrust division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

It would add an additional $300 million to each group’s annual budget and authorize them to seek civil fines for competition violations.

Klobuchar’s bill also includes a bevy of other fixes, including creating an independent Competition Advocate at the FTC, eliminating the requirement that claimants almost always define a relevant market in order to establish liability in antitrust court cases and requiring studies by the FTC and Government Accountability Office on competition.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), faces long odds of passing in its entirety out of the Senate as long Republicans maintain filibuster power.

It does serve, however, as an opening salvo on a topic that has garnered increased interest recently, especially as the country’s biggest tech companies come under antitrust scrutiny.

Democrats in the House released a mammoth report last year on competition in digital marketplaces that argued Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook are monopolies and offered a slate of reform proposals.

While the House Judiciary Committee report contained some more aggressive proposals like structural separation and prohibiting self-preferencing, many of the antitrust suggestions in it are also in Klobuchar’s bill.

Increasing the resources and authority for the Justice Department’s antitrust division and FTC could gain some extra steam given that both agencies are currently involved in cases against Big Tech companies.

The Justice Department sued Google last year for allegedly illegally maintaining its monopoly on search and online advertising.

The FTC sued Facebook shortly after for, among other things, making anticompetitive acquisitions in the social media space.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Cory Booker Ed Markey

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