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Tech Hawks Meet Resistance to a "Modest Proposal"

Congressman Ken Buck brought a package of antitrust bills to the House Wednesday night.

House Judiciary Committee Meets For Markup On Articles Of Impeachment
Representative Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, (L) talks with Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, and Representative Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado, during a House Judiciary Committee markup of Articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Longworth House Office Building on December 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jonathan Newton-Pool/Getty Images)

Intramural fights are causing a dustup in the House Judiciary Committee this week as Colorado Republican Ken Buck looks to push a legislative package that seeks to empower state attorneys general with the authority to try antitrust cases on their home turf, rein in monopolistic tech mergers among large companies, and check China’s financial interference in domestic mergers. The bipartisan Merger Filing Fee Authorization Act, which has reconciled the priorities of GOP tech hawks and the aggressive antitrust commissioners on the FTC, is being criticized by Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

On Tuesday morning, Jordan tweeted: “Do you think we should give the Biden DOJ and FTC more money? Do you trust they won’t use the money to target conservatives?  Do you think Joe Biden, Merrick Garland, and Lina Khan have your best interests at heart? No, No, No.”

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Buck, ranking member of the Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, is not swayed by those critiques. In fact, the bills that he brought to the House on Wednesday night seem to have been drafted to encourage state governments to curb Big Tech mergers that allow the merged entities to more comfortably “target conservatives.”

Mike Davis, president of the Article III Project, told Steve Bannon on Tuesday: “This is a modest proposal. This is time for Republicans who pretend they want to hold Big Tech accountable. This is time for them to put up or shut up.”

Jordan might be one of those Republicans Davis was talking about. When the Facebook Oversight Board upheld the company’s decision to ban President Trump from Facebook and Instagram in May of last year, Jordan tweeted, “Break them up.”

So which one will it be? Catchy, far-reaching political slogans or common-sense policy? Jordan's position is difficult to follow. One of the bills in the package, Buck's State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act, passed the Judiciary Committee in June of last year by a vote of 34-7 with a 'yea' vote from Jordan. The second, Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse's Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, passed the same committee by a vote of 29-12 with a 'no' vote from Jordan. The third, the Foreign Merger Subsidy Disclosure Act, has yet to get a committee vote.

That second bill, though, is what distinguishes those who really care about discouraging anticompetitive behavior. Right now, the FTC imposes fees when corporate entities file for a merger, the values of which are determined by the total amount of voting securities, assets, or non-corporate interests being acquired through the merger. Neguse's bill actually proposes to decrease filing fees for mergers under $1 billion valuations, but increase fees for mergers in excess of $1 billion. The bill also directs the FTC to increase filing fees each year according to the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index, a metric that measures the prices paid by U.S. consumers for goods and services.

One group of GOP senators expressed support for those in favor of the package. Utah’s Mike Lee, Arizona’s Tom Cotton, and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley urged their colleagues in the House to pass the package, saying, “This package represents a strong, bipartisan consensus approach to strengthening enforcement of the federal antitrust laws, against both Big Tech and other bad actors. Importantly, these bills improve antitrust enforcement without appropriating any more funds to President Biden’s out-of-control FTC.”

While Buck is pushing restrained, politically viable legislation that would strengthen the average American’s position in the cultural battle against Silicon Valley, some of his colleagues seem to be sticking to an overcooked theory derived from a notion of corporate personhood. History will be on Buck’s side.

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