The House passed bipartisan antitrust legislation on Thursday to give state and federal regulators more power to tackle monopoly cases, despite opposition from Big Tech firms like Google and Amazon.
The bills, which now head to the Senate, would arm the Justice Department’s antitrust division with more funding, strengthen the hand of state attorneys general when they bring lawsuits against Big Tech firms — and require firms engaged in mergers and acquisitions to disclose any ties to US adversaries.
Backers of the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act praised the bill as a much-needed boost for underfunded anti-monopoly regulators.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), a sponsor of the bill, praised its passage as a “great victory for restoring competition!”
The bill sailed through the House despite opposition from Big Tech-backed groups including the US Chamber of Commerce, which argued that the legislation would “stymie legitimate business transactions across sectors and industries, create needless new bureaucracy, and spur unwarranted litigation.”
Democrats voted 203-16 in favor of the bill, while the measure received support from 39 Republicans, compared with 168 who opposed it.
The Republican opposition was led by influential Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who blasted the bill for giving more money to what he claimed is a corrupt Justice Department.
“This bill would actually give $140 million to the DOJ so they can work and continue what they’re already doing: work with big tech to censor certain information from getting to we the people,” Jordan said ahead of Thursday’s vote.
Democrats who opposed the bill included Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who represents a California district that includes Silicon Valley.
The bill would raise money for the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which is led by Big Tech antagonist Jonathan Kanter, by upping the fees that large companies have to pay when they seek government approval for mergers and acquisitions. Companies seeking smaller mergers would pay lower fees.
It would also let state attorneys general choose the venue for antitrust lawsuits. Advocates say that would reduce the ability of tech firms to make sure the lawsuits are heard by pro-Tech judges.
For example, if this law had been in effect, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton’s antitrust suit against Google would likely not have been moved to New York, where it is being heard by a judge that some advocates claim is overly sympathetic to Google. Instead, Paxton would have been able to keep the case in Texas.
In addition, the bill would require companies going through mergers to notify regulators if they’ve received subsidies from US rivals including China and Russia.
In the Senate, the bill has the support of many Democrats, as well as Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The bill has also been endorsed by the White House and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The Senate previously passed a bill to let attorneys general choose the venue for antitrust lawsuits, but has not passed legislation around merger filing fees.
“Passing the Merger Reform package is an important first step in denting Big Tech’s ability to gobble up competitors at will, collude among themselves, and ultimately raise prices by limiting choices for consumers,” said Sacha Haworth, executive director of the advocacy group Tech Oversight Project.