Technology

GOP divided over bills targeting tech giants

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
Greg Nash

House Republicans are publicly sparring over several high-profile antitrust bills that have bipartisan support, signaling a bumpy road ahead for the legislation.

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday is slated to vote on five bipartisan measures targeting Big Tech, but the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) are bashing the bills as a Democratic-led partisan power grab.

“Democrat impeachment managers don’t care about conservative censorship. Their next big mission? Empower Big Tech and Big Government to make it worse,” Jordan tweeted Wednesday, after lawmakers in both parties touted the legislative package.

That drew a swift rebuke on Twitter from Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), the ranking member on the antitrust subcommittee who is cosponsoring the bills.

“Using antitrust laws to stop Big Tech’s bad behavior isn’t Big Government, it’s law enforcement,” Buck said.

While the Republican infighting is unlikely to prevent the bills from advancing in the House, the GOP division could have bigger ramifications in the 50-50 Senate, where at least 60 votes are needed to advance most legislation.

The House bills are the culmination of the antitrust panel’s blockbuster report released last year alleging that Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook abuse their market power. The report outlined policy recommendations, but failed to get Republican support.

The proposals in the five bills released this week, however, represent a “scalpel, not a chainsaw” approach to revamping antitrust laws, Buck said at a press conference this past week.

“We see this as a starting point and we are open to making these bills better, both here and on the Senate side together. If we don’t start somewhere, we don’t do something, the problem becomes much, much bigger,” he said.

Buck is also pitching the bills as a way to go after social media platforms, appealing to fellow Republicans who allege that tech companies are suppressing conservative voices.

“For my conservative friends concerned about Big Tech’s power over information and speech, the only way to stop this power is through antitrust reform,” Buck said.

The bills aim to overhaul antitrust laws by giving federal regulators greater authority to rein in alleged monopolies. Some of the measures have a better chance of moving forward than others.

The Merger Filing Modernization Act, which would increase the filing fees paid to antitrust agencies for merger reviews, has a companion bill in the Senate that was attached to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that passed the upper chamber earlier this month.

The House version, introduced by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), is co-sponsored by Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), who acknowledged that while she’s backing the merger filing bill, she does not support the antitrust agenda in totality.

“I might not agree with all of the bills in this package — and I don’t. I might not agree with why we have monopoly problems, oligopoly problems, but we do have these problems. And not just in Big Tech,” she said, noting issues of market power also in health care and hospitals.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), another Judiciary Committee member who has been critical of the proposals, said there are some aspects of the bills that have merit. He noted how one of the bills would add interoperability and data portability requirements.

But Issa said he is largely concerned that the bills take a narrow scope in targeting Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

“The premise that big is bad, or that we should have legislation that defines companies being treated differently simply because they’ve grown to a certain value, I think that’s inherently bad legislation. And I looked forward to a markup where I think that we should insist on some of that being changed,” Issa told The Hill.

The bills stipulate that affected companies would include platforms with at least 50 million U.S.-based monthly active users or 100,000 U.S.-based monthly active business users, as well as those that have a market capitalization greater than $600 billion.

Asked whether Microsoft would be targeted under the definition of the legislation, House Antitrust Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said that determination would be up to enforcement agencies.

The proposals would also give greater authority to the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to rein in the market power of the companies.

Issa said the bills are a “potentially large power grab by the executive branch.”

GOP concerns over the additional power given to the FTC is further fueled by the Biden administration’s naming of Big Tech critic Lina Khan to chair the agency just hours after she was confirmed by the Senate in a 69-28 vote.

Still, Khan garnered support from numerous Republicans, including leading tech critic Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.).

The GOP divisions are also pitting Trump allies against each other. Jordan is among the most vocal critics of the bills, while Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is a co-sponsor.

McCarthy’s criticism, meanwhile, focuses on issues like free speech and government authority.

“The House Republican plan to confront big tech won’t be influenced by anything other than the commitment to free speech and free enterprise,” Mark Bednar, a spokesman for McCarthy, told the Wall Street Journal, adding that the legislative package “only gives Democrats in the federal government more power to tip the scales.”

Bednar did not respond to The Hill when asked about alternative proposals to address antitrust reform.

Outside groups say Republicans need to take action of some kind against Silicon Valley.

“Republican leaders need to decide whether they represent their constituents and conservatives, or they represent woke Big Tech billionaire monopolists in Silicon Valley,” said Mike Davis, founder and president of the conservative advocacy group Internet Accountability Project (IAP).

IAP has been sending emails to supporters, urging them to call Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to support the bills.

“I think their constituents are going to help change their minds. McCarthy and Jordan, especially Jordan, proclaim they are these champions of conservatives and great warriors against Big Tech, when in reality they’re doing Big Tech’s bidding,” Davis said.

Tech industry groups that name the tech giants among their members, including NetChoice and Chamber of Progress, have bashed the proposals.

Buck pledged earlier this year to reject donations from Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and Twitter.

Jordan accepted a $5,000 donation from Google for his 2020 reelection campaign. He has accepted thousands of dollars from Google in election cycles over the past decade, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Asked about Jordan’s donations from Google, a spokesperson for the congressman pointed to Jordan’s Fox News interview last year when he defended accepting donations from the Silicon Valley giant.

“If Google gives me a few thousand dollar check, God bless them, that doesn’t change who I am,” Jordan said.

McCarthy also accepted $5,000 from Google in the 2020 election cycle, as well as thousands of dollars from Amazon, Facebook and Google over the last decade, according to FEC records.

Neither McCarthy nor Jordan would qualify to receive donations from Amazon, Facebook or Google now as the tech companies have paused donations to lawmakers who voted against certifying the results of the presidential election.

Despite the backlash to the bills, Cicilline and Buck touted the bipartisan support that led to the proposals.

“Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days, but we agree on the need to take on these unregulated Big Tech monopolies,” Cicilline said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“We would not be here today without the support of so many men and women on both sides of the aisle. We’re showing that bipartisanship is still possible in this day and age.”

Tags antitrust Big tech Darrell Issa David Cicilline Jim Jordan Joe Neguse Josh Hawley Ken Buck Kevin McCarthy Lina Khan Matt Gaetz Silicon Valley Social media
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