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Biden's far-left antitrust policy

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 7/27/2021 Josh Withrow
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"Break up Big Tech" seems to have become a dogmatic mantra for Republicans.

The GOP rhetorically sounds less like Ronald Reagan and more like Teddy Roosevelt. Thankfully, some limited-government conservatives are realizing that the antitrust big stick they have brandished might not feel so nice when wielded by those who don’t share their worldview.

One major reason for this newfound clarity is the White House bait-and-switch that saw newly confirmed Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan promoted to head the body almost immediately. Khan went through Senate approval under the illusion that she would simply be replacing her fellow hardcore progressive Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who has been nominated but not yet confirmed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Instead, days later, the Biden administration placed Khan in the chair, turning control of the agency over to one of the most radical liberal voices in the competition policy world.

In last month’s marathon House Judiciary Committee markup of a package of antitrust reforms targeted at Big Tech, in particular, ranking member Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, observed that each of the bills placed tremendous new power in the hands of the FTC. Not coincidentally, he noted, Khan was previously legal counsel to the House Judiciary Democrats, playing a major role in crafting the bills that seek to empower the agency she now leads.

The objection to handing this power to the FTC was notable in part because Jordan has not exactly been a cheerleader for Big Tech. He has even joined House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in rolling out a framework for punishing tech giants for their perceived anti-conservative bias in content moderation. What Jordan and a number of his fellow conservatives have correctly recognized, though, is that not only will expanding the power of antitrust enforcers not solve the problem of bias in social media, but it will also invest tremendous power in progressives who couldn’t care less about protecting conservative speech online. They instead seek to restructure the economy radically to reflect their social priorities.

Just a month into Khan’s leadership, the FTC has already rapidly transitioned away from any pretense of deliberative, nonpartisan decision-making. Calling an "open meeting" with only 10 days' notice to the public, Khan and her fellow liberal commissioners rammed through several changes that will grease the skids for expanding the FTC's antitrust authority via rule-making. Each change was passed on a 3-2 vote over the objections of the two Republican-appointed commissioners, and public commenters were recognized only after the votes had been taken. A second such meeting saw another important guardrail against abuse of the FTC merger review process repealed, also along partisan lines and with the same lack of real public input.

The pretense of the FTC’s political independence was further eroded when Khan attended the announcement of President Joe Biden’s sweeping executive order on competition, which was spearheaded by Khan’s fellow antitrust crusader Tim Wu. Wu serves on the White House National Economic Council. Although the White House can’t legally give direct orders to an "independent" commission such as the FTC, the order "suggested" that the FTC both enforce existing antitrust laws "vigorously" and establish new rules for policing data security and online commerce. Within hours, Khan released a statement with the acting head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, promising to reexamine the guidelines for vertical mergers, which, given Khan’s past writings, surely means we will see far more mergers challenged in the near future.

The Biden administration and Khan’s FTC have made abundantly clear that they will do everything they can to expand antitrust enforcement even without Congress giving them extra power. Khan has written that she would like to abolish the consumer welfare standard for antitrust enforcement, which was created in no small part to reduce the government’s ability to use antitrust for political ends. Meanwhile, her fellow progressive Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter has doubled down on previous statements that the FTC should wield antitrust as a tool to address "racial and economic justice."

The progressive Left’s cards are on the table, and its crusade against "bigness" could cause havoc as our economy recovers from a disastrous year of lockdowns. Conservatives need to keep focused on the big picture and not grant the government more power that will inevitably be used against them.

Josh Withrow is the director of technology policy for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to tax and regulatory policy research at all levels of government.

Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, Blog Contributors, Antitrust, Big Tech

Original Author: Josh Withrow

Original Location: Biden's far-left antitrust policy

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