There are very few problems with the power to transcend partisan politics in Washington — much less with the power to break parties and make bedfellows of Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Josh Hawley (R-MO). In an interview with The edge on Tuesday, Klobuchar described how reigning in Big Tech has done just that.
During President Joe Biden’s first year in office, bipartisan grief over Big Tech’s stranglehold on the markets simmered under a surface tension of faction over issues such as coronavirus relief and infrastructure financing. While shaky discussions over antitrust reform may have been easily lost in the noise of other Democratic priorities, Klobuchar pushed ahead and introduced a handful of bills that took advantage of broad congressional consensus that the Amazons, Facebooks and Googles of the tech industry had become “monopolies” that could foreclose competitors and allow platforms to set their own standards for the internet.
Klobuchar’s campaign paid off on the morning of Jan. 20, just days after the Biden administration announced new initiatives to curb corporate power in several sectors, including technology. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed its “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” that afternoon and laid it on the floor for final consideration. If passed, the bill would prohibit dominant platforms, such as Facebook and Google, from favoring their own products and services over those of their competitors. On top of this move, another Klobuchar bill, which would provide more funding for the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission through higher merger filing fees, will receive final approval in the House next month, she said.
“We have come to this point because of years of inactivity,” Klobuchar said in a telephone interview with The edge on Tuesday. “A lot of people talk a big game, but nothing went through.”
But after last week’s successful markup, Congress is now closer than ever to tackling the power of Big Tech. Last summer, Klobuchar’s counterparts in the House passed a bill accompanying her legislation, so all that’s left is for the final floor in both the Senate and House before Biden can sign it into law.
This possibility has deterred tech. In 2021, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Uber and Twitter spent nearly $70 million lobbying politicians as Republicans and Democrats pursued legislation to address their market power, according to The Washington Post. Days before Klobuchar’s bill passed the committee, Apple and Google waved statements criticizing its legislation and warning it would harm consumers rather than help them. Industry-backed lobby groups were more explicit. Chamber of Progress, an Amazon-funded group, said the bill would “eliminate both the financing model and the logistics model that Prime,” a popular business service, “enables”.
Klobuchar dismissed industry concerns in a talk with The edge. “It’s not like we’re trying to make them or all their innovations disappear. Of course not. That’s ridiculous,” she said. “We’re just trying to put in some traffic rules so they can’t favor their own products over others or copy other companies’ data and use it to their advantage.”
Still, new regulations are seen as a significant threat to an industry that has avoided virtually any form of regulation in recent decades. During last week’s drafting, senators on both sides of the aisle proposed changes to the bill that could dramatically alter its effectiveness. Klobuchar told The edge that she was willing to work with other senators in good faith, but “we need to have a bill that actually does something.”
“Everyone is trying to win a popularity contest with the tech companies. You have to understand that these companies will be fine. They are trillion dollar companies. We’re just making room for competitors,” she said.
While the Biden administration looks eager to take over corporate power this year, its efforts could be tainted by more pressing problems as lawmakers return to their districts seeking big Democratic wins as midterm elections heat up. When asked whether antitrust reform was a winning issue for Democrats, Klobuchar said she hadn’t “thought of it that way.”
“We have people of all kinds of different ideologies who are committed to keeping the markets competitive,” she continued. “It’s much more about what’s best for America and what’s best for the competition than it is about what’s best for both political parties. I think it’s healthy because we’re focused on making this happen for the people in this country.”
Political victories are measured in how they affect voters’ everyday lives. In a year engulfed in crises – such as the government’s responses to COVID-19 and inflation – antitrust reform is unlikely to be the top priority for voters of either party. Still, Klobuchar argued that her bills would lower prices in online markets like Amazon and give parents more control over what their kids see on social media.
“Allowing more competition gives them more choice so they can protect their children,” Klobuchar said.
But even if Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) find the time to bring up the antitrust law, it doesn’t mean they can get the votes for the legislation. to succeed. While many Republicans and Democrats support competitive reform, others argue it is unnecessary and could cause more harm to businesses and consumers. sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) dabbled with Klobuchar over the bill in last week’s draft, suggesting the government was against it. “I’d like to know if you have any knowledge I don’t,” Klobuchar replied during the markup. “That’s a pretty bold statement.”
Now, the future of the bill hinges on the ability of Klobuchar and her colleague to get the remaining lawmakers on their side.
“At one point during the hearing, one of the senators said to me, ‘You know, you have a lot against you. This won’t be easy,” Klobuchar . said The edge on Tuesday. “Really? I didn’t know that!” she laughed.
“We know that. But you just can’t give up.”