Technology

Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup

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An hours-long House Judiciary Committee markup Wednesday created unusual bipartisan alliances both for and against a package of antitrust bills targeting some of the country’s biggest tech companies.

The committee had advanced two of the six bills as of early Wednesday evening, with proceedings expected to stretch late into the night.

The six bills aim to revamp antitrust laws, giving the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department greater authority to rein in the power of tech giants.

Lawmakers were not solidly in support of or opposed to all of the bills.

Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican who has publicly slammed the antitrust agenda as a partisan power grab, voted to advance at least one of the bills, a piece of legislation that was not part of the original five-bill package.

That measure — ensuring state attorneys general are able to remain in the court they select rather than having cases moved to venues preferred by defendants — advanced in a 34-7 vote, with “no” votes coming from Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Eric Swalwell (Calif.) and J. Luis Correa (Calif.), and Republican Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Michelle Fishbach (Minn.).

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), meanwhile, said he “enthusiastically” supported the legislation from the top members of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), adding that it “balances and tempers” the power the legislation in total gives to Washington.

“I must confess, it is a bit awkward to be defending a Cicilline bill against a critique from the gentlelady from California, Ms. Lofgren, but perhaps speaks to the bipartisan nature of this entire process,” Gaetz said. “And it is worth noting in the hearings and meetings that Chairman Cicilline described, the conduct of these technology platforms was brazen and egregious and harmful to our country.”

Lofgren said it would be a “big mistake” to approve the bill and said the proposal requires more study, echoing a similar complaint from centrist Democrats last week.

Members of the centrist New Democrat Coalition wrote to top Democrats last week requesting a delay on the proposals, signaling they may not support the measures if they hit the House floor.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) on Wednesday voted in favor of advancing the bill opposed by Lofgren but said he may not support it on the House floor upon learning more.

The tech industry vehemently opposes the House package of bills, with the companies targeted in them — Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google — arguing the legislation could lead to unintended consequences, harming consumers and small businesses.

The argument has been dismissed by the bills’ proponents, and advocacy groups insist the legislation would help level the playing field against the tech giants.

The committee also approved a measure that would update filing fees for mergers for the first time in two decades. The committee voted 29-12 to approve the bill, with five Republicans — Reps. Chip Roy (Texas), Victoria Spartz (Ind.), Burgess Owens (Utah), Buck and Gaetz — joining Democrats in supporting the proposal.

The legislation has a companion measure in the Senate, which was attached to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that passed the Senate earlier this month.

During a fierce debate over another measure that would add interoperability and data portability requirements among platforms, Jordan argued it would create a “secret committee” within the FTC that could lead to censorship. 

Lofgren also voiced concerns over the bill, saying it needs “more detail” on how the FTC will ensure there are no risks to privacy and security for consumers. 

Other measures the committee was set to mark up include proposals that would eliminate dominant platforms’ ability to self-preference in ways that undermine fair competition and a bill that aims to prohibit platforms’ ability to acquire competitive threats.

The measures may face additional hurdles after this week’s markup, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) publicly condemning the legislative effort. There’s also pushback among Democrats.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a top progressive whose district covers much of Silicon Valley, said in an interview on Fox Business that the legislation needs to be written in a “much more thoughtful, accurate way.”

“I think some of the people who wrote it don’t understand all the details of how these platforms work. I say this as someone who wants stronger antitrust enforcement,” Khanna said on Wednesday morning.

Tags antitrust Chip Roy Darrell Issa David Cicilline Eric Swalwell Jim Jordan Ken Buck Kevin McCarthy Matt Gaetz Ro Khanna Silicon Valley Tech giants Ted Lieu Thomas Massie Tom McClintock Zoe Lofgren

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