But partisan disagreements over next steps may blunt the report’s immediate impact, despite a widespread desire to rein in Silicon Valley titans among both conservative and liberal lawmakers. Several of the committee’s Republicans, led by Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, endorsed some Democrat-backed proposals in a separate report unveiled Tuesday while warning that the majority’s more aggressive recommendations are “non-starters for conservatives.”
The investigation: The subcommittee issued Tuesday’s recommendations in a report that assailed the business practices of Silicon Valley’s most powerful companies, who lawmakers said have unfairly stifled competitors to the detriment of consumers. As part of the probe, lawmakers and staff have collected over a million documents, interviewed hundreds of witnesses and hauled in the companies’ CEOs to testify this summer.
Among other allegations, the panel investigated complaints that tech titans have trampled competitors by acquiring up-and-coming rivals and favoring their own products on the online storefronts they operate, such as Amazon’s Marketplace and Apple’s App Store.
“To put it simply, companies that once were scrappy, underdog startups that challenged the status quo have become the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons,” Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said in the report. “Although these firms have delivered clear benefits to society, the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google has come at a price.”
The proposals: The report calls for an array of changes, some of which boast bipartisan support while others have only Democratic backing.
Among them are Democratic proposals to ban major tech platforms from acquiring future startups or potential rivals and barring them from both owning marketplaces — such as Amazon’s sprawling e-commerce hub — and selling competing products on them.
The report also calls on Congress to grant federal antitrust enforcers new resources to police possible abuses by the major firms, despite decades of “institutional failure” where the agencies “failed to block monopolists from establishing or maintaining their dominance.” Recommendation include increasing budgets, allowing the Federal Trade Commission to seek civil penalties for violations and imposing stricter prohibitions on senior staff from the agencies doing work for the companies after their tenure.
Democratic subcommittee member Pramila Jayapal of Washington state said Tuesday that she expects lawmakers will quickly look to turn the policy recommendations into actionable legislation once Congress returns in 2021 — if not sooner.
“I do hope that we will have legislation introduced early in the session and we can ideally in a year move significant pieces of legislation,” she said in an interview.
Where the parties differ: Republican lawmakers said in a separate report Tuesday that they support boosting funding and staffing levels for regulators and some more modest proposals to change U.S. antitrust laws, but they balked at Democrats’ more aggressive proposals. They include what Cicilline has described as a Glass-Steagall law for technology platforms, a reference to the Depression-era law that split up commercial and investment banking.
Instead, Republicans favor making it easier for antitrust enforcers at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to block mergers by “shifting the burden of proof” on what constitutes an anti-competitive acquisition. GOP lawmakers also supported measures to give consumers more control of their data by making personal information portable and interoperable among platforms.
“We agree that antitrust enforcement agencies need additional resources and tools to provide proper oversight,” Buck wrote in a response to the Democratic-majority’s recommendations, as POLITICO first reported Monday. “However, these potential changes need not be dramatic to be effective.
Reps. Doug Collins of Georgia, who served as the top Republican on Judiciary until earlier this year; Matt Gaetz of Florida, who sits on the antitrust subcommittee; and Andy Biggs of Arizona joined Buck is supporting the report.
All four released statements saying they hope to pursue work in a bipartisan fashion as Congress moves toward drafting legislation.
The bias issue: After the report surfaced Tuesday, Judiciary’s top Republican rebuked the panel’s Democratic leaders for not addressing allegations of an anti-conservative bias by top social media platforms, which the companies deny and Democrats dismiss as baseless.
“Big tech is out to get conservatives,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Democrats’ partisan report ignores this fundamental problem and potential solutions and instead advances radical proposals that would refashion antitrust law in the vision of the far left.”
And in another GOP report spearheaded by Jordan and released later Tuesday, Judiciary Republicans called for revamping the liability protections that shield Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies to open them up to lawsuits over allegations of political bias.
The reaction: The tech giants defended their business practices and touted the popularity of their services among consumers in separate statements in response to the committee’s multiple reports Tuesday.
“Americans simply don’t want Congress to break Google’s products or harm the free services they use every day,” the company said. Apple disputed the majority report’s assertion that it has “a dominant market share” in its areas of business. And Amazon issued a scathing rebuttal, blasting Judiciary’s proposals in a blog post as “fringe notions” that would “destroy small businesses and hurt consumers.”
The Democratic report received praise from anti-monopoly groups, consumer advocates and representatives for industries who say they have been harmed by Silicon Valley giants’ anti-competitive conduct.
Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said the majority report “marks a dramatic advance in the debate about monopoly power and Big Tech.” Laura Bassett of the Save Journalism Project, a group that has railed against tech giants’ squeezing the news industry, said the Democratic recommendations “would help reset the competitive landscape and restore fairness to the online marketplace.”
But tech industry and business groups quickly opposed the recommendations, saying they would stifle innovation and harm the U.S. economy.
NetChoice, a trade association that counts Amazon, Google and Facebook as members, called the Democratic proposals “extreme” and said they’d “stifle small businesses and put cronyism ahead of consumer interests.” The Chamber of Commerce urged Congress “to refrain from relying on this one-sided staff report to guide future legislation.”
The Biden factor: One key question is how much support the proposals will get from Biden, who has spoken little about his views on tech and antitrust.
Speaking in August at a private fundraiser on antitrust for the Democratic presidential nominee, Cicilline said he expects a Biden administration to “tackle market concentration” and work with Congress to strengthen antitrust enforcement and promote labor-market competition. “Joe Biden is the person to fix it,” the lawmaker said, as POLITICO previously reported.
Leah Nylen contributed to this report.