Tech industry pushes for delay in antitrust legislation
The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee is coming under pressure to hit the brakes on a legislative package targeting tech giants.
Industry groups, major tech companies and centrist Democrats have called for additional time and hearings to weigh the five proposals before the panel moves ahead with Wednesday’s scheduled markup.
The bills focus on Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google and build off the investigation the House subcommittee conducted last year that led to a blockbuster report alleging abuse of market power by the companies, who have all pushed back on the report’s findings.
Now, the industry is arguing that the legislation on tap for Wednesday could lead to “unintended” consequences and end up hindering consumers and small businesses that rely on their services.
“The bills would require us to degrade our services and prevent us from offering important features used by hundreds of millions of Americans,” Mark Isakowitz, Google’s vice president of government affairs and public policy, said in a statement.
“We respectfully recommend that these consequences receive more thoughtful consideration before Congress takes action,” Isakowitz added.
The proposals — all of which have some level of GOP support — are supported by advocacy groups and a coalition of small-business owners. The measures were introduced on June 11.
Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said the panel, led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), is moving “unnecessarily fast in pushing these bills forward.”
“We encourage Chairman Cicilline and committee members to slow down, postpone the markup, and thoroughly vet the language in the bills for unintended negative consequences,” Huseman said in a statement.
A Facebook spokesperson called the legislation a “poison pill for America’s tech industry at a time our economy can least afford it” and argued it underestimates the “unrelenting competition within the tech sector,” pointing to competition from foreign companies including the Chinese-owned TikTok.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Tech industry groups such as NetChoice and Chamber of Progress, which list Google, Facebook and Amazon among their members and partners, have issued similar warnings about the legislative package.
“They put at risk free services that consumers use to message and call loved ones, get directions, connect with healthcare professions, consume online content‚ including news and educational content‚ and much more,” TechNet President and CEO Linda Moore wrote to members of the committee.
Chamber of Progress, along with the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship, the Latino Coalition and the U.S. Black Chambers, penned a separate letter Tuesday to Cicilline and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) asking them to consider consequences that could “inadvertently put technology, information, or opportunity further out of reach for small businesses and other communities that have been left behind,” according to a copy of the letter shared with The Hill.
Richard Luchette, a spokesperson for Cicilline, dismissed the arguments from the tech industry.
“I do not have a comment on the fact that tech platforms holding monopoly power are trying to delay long-overdue reforms that will require them to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Luchette said.
Some advocates argue that the industry is quaking because the bills could upend their business models.
“Amazon executives are panicking because they know these bills will break the company’s stranglehold on small businesses and consumers, and force it to compete on a level playing field,” Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said in a statement.
But in addition to the tech industry, centrist Democrats are also saying the subcommittee should move slowly with its consideration of the legislation.
Members of the New Democrat Coalition wrote last week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Nadler urging a delay of Wednesday’s markup, saying full legislative hearings on these proposals are needed instead.
“We agree it is long overdue for Congress to enact laws that protect consumer’s rights and personal information in our ever increasingly digital world. However, these are complex issues with far reaching implications,” wrote Reps. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Sharice Davids (Kan.), Ann Kuster (N.H.), Chrissy Houlahan (Pa.) and Kathy Manning (N.C.).
“Legislation on topics as multifaceted and important as this one should be given the appropriate time and consideration,” they added.
Spokespeople for Pelosi, Hoyer and the House Judiciary Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
The proposals would give regulators more power to rein in the tech giants — at a time when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will be helmed by Big Tech critic Lina Khan — and could even lead to breaking up some of the companies.
President Biden has yet to nominate another key antitrust official — the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division — but by naming Khan, who worked on the House panel’s antitrust investigation last year, to head the FTC just hours after she was confirmed by the Senate is a signal that Biden’s likely to take a strong stance against the tech giants.
Wednesday’s markup is likely to lead to a contentious debate, as prominent Republicans have also slammed the proposals.
While Nadler last week touted the bills as a “historic” step that will “pave the way for a stronger economy and a stronger democracy for the American people,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the committee’s ranking member, has been on a media blitz bashing the legislation.
Jordan on Tuesday co-authored an opinion piece published by Fox News arguing the bills would “empower the Biden administration to command and control Big Tech with an unchecked iron fist.”
“These Democrat bills will only make things worse. If you think Big Tech is bad now, just wait until Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are working in collusion with Big Government,” Jordan wrote with former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who later served as chief of staff in the Trump White House.
Despite that criticism, antitrust subcommittee ranking member Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said last week he expects more Republicans to support the proposals.
“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,” Buck told reporters.
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