The House of Representatives passed bipartisan antitrust legislation on Thursday to give state and federal regulators more power to deal with antitrust cases, despite opposition from big tech firms like Google and Amazon.
Bills now going to the Senate would arm the Justice Department’s antitrust division with more funding, strengthen the hand of attorneys general when bringing lawsuits against big tech firms — and require firms involved in mergers and acquisitions to disclose any ties to adversaries of the United States.
Supporters of the Merger Registration Fee Modernization Act hailed the bill as a much-needed boost to underfunded antitrust regulators.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), the bill’s sponsor, hailed its passage as “a great victory to restore competition!”
The bill passed the House despite opposition from big-tech-backed groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, which argued the legislation would “stymie legitimate business transactions across sectors and industries, create unnecessary new red tape and spur unwarranted litigation.”
Democrats voted 203-16 in favor of the bill, while the measure received support from 39 Republicans compared to 168 who opposed it.
Republican opposition was led by influential Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, who criticized the bill for giving more money to what he said was a corrupt Justice Department.
“This bill will actually give $140 million to the Department of Justice so they can work and continue what they’re already doing: working with big technology to censor certain information so it doesn’t get to us, the people,” Jordan said before Thursday’s vote.
Democrats who opposed the bill included Congresswoman 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 Cantor, by raising the fees big companies must pay when they seek government approval for mergers and acquisitions. Companies seeking smaller mergers will pay lower fees.
It would also allow attorneys general to choose the venue for antitrust cases. Advocates say that would reduce the ability of tech firms to ensure that lawsuits are heard by pro-tech judges.
For example, if that law had been in place, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s antitrust lawsuit against Google likely wouldn’t have been moved to New York, where it is being heard by a judge some advocates say is overly favorable to Google. Instead, Paxton would have been able to keep the case in Texas.
In addition, the bill would require companies undergoing mergers to notify regulators if they have received subsidies from U.S. competitors, including China and Russia.
In the Senate, the bill has the support of many Democrats, as well as Republican senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. The bill was also endorsed by the White House and the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The Senate previously passed a bill allowing attorneys general to choose the venue for antitrust cases, but has not passed legislation on merger filing fees.
“Passing the merger reform package is an important first step in limiting Big Tech’s ability to gobble up competitors at will, collude with each other and ultimately raise prices by limiting consumer choice,” said Sasha Howarth, executive director of the advocacy group Tech Oversight Project.