A bill that would direct antitrust agencies to study the impact of mergers marks the first legislative step of the newly-formed House Antitrust Caucus and underscores how cracking down on corporate consolidation is a growing issue for congressional Democrats.
The effort comes in the wake of major mergers, like Amazon.com and Whole Foods Market Inc., that some advocates said would hurt workers and competition.
The legislation, which doesn’t yet have a bill number, was introduced Dec. 4 by seven Democrats. It would require the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to assess a merger’s effect on price and quality of products, along with job cuts and pay. It’s intended to “curb the harmful effects of corporate monopolization on working people,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), in a statement.
Ellison is also deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and the bill is likely to function as a campaign tool as well as an attempt to amend antitrust law. So far, the measure has no Republican cosponsors. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, Democrats can point to it as an effort to address their constituents’ concerns about big companies.
The other sponsors are David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.).
Five Mergers a Year
The bill would require the FTC and the DOJ antitrust division to select at least five mergers a year for analysis.
Antitrust officials already conduct merger retrospectives, but their analyses are narrowly targeted on price effects and quality and don’t focus on factors like salaries and job losses.
The bill would require the regulators’ reviews to also take into account the effectiveness of divestitures or other remedies, facility closures and job cuts resulting from the merger, any changes in employee salaries, and the deal’s impact on investment in research and development. Those results also would be made public under the bill.
Some of the sponsors are also members of the House Antitrust Caucus, which was formed in October to educate members and staff about competition policy. The caucus intends to set up briefings on competition issues with experts, according to aides. More legislation is likely to come, they said.
“We’ve got to fight against these endless mergers which put a huge amount of power into the hands of a few corporations and economically disenfranchise the American people,” Nolan, co-chair of the caucus, said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law. “That’s why the Antitrust Caucus was founded.”
Cicilline, who also is the lead Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, plans to put forth his own bill to modernize antitrust laws. The lawmaker told Bloomberg Law in an earlier interview that measure will likely be introduced sometime next year.
Cicilline and Ellison co-hosted an event earlier this year with public interest advocates to discuss “competition and corporate power.” Later this month, the caucus will host another event on concentration in the digital economy. It will examine how the dominance of a few companies in the technology sector is affecting innovation and entrepreneurship.
—With assistance from Alexei Alexis
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