Partisan Divisions Hinder House Big Tech Report
By Ryan Tracy
WASHINGTON -- Partisan divisions are emerging in the final stage
of a congressional inquiry into U.S. technology giants, showing the
uphill road ahead for legislation to rein in Big Tech despite
widespread concern about the companies' power.
The disagreements between Democrats and Republicans on the House
Antitrust Subcommittee are focused on policy recommendations
growing out of the panel's 16-month-long probe into the market
power of Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Alphabet Inc.'s Google, and
Facebook Inc., according to congressional aides.
The House panel is preparing a report detailing its conclusions.
It had been expected to publish Monday, but hasn't yet been
Republicans are privately balking at some ideas in the draft
report, which was penned primarily by Democratic staff. GOP
lawmakers don't support a Democratic proposal to separate large
online platforms from other lines of business, the aides said. Some
Republicans are also disappointed the report doesn't discuss the
companies' power to moderate online speech, a hot-button issue for
conservatives, the aides said.
Other recommendations have bipartisan -- if not unanimous --
support, including boosting resources for U.S. antitrust enforcers
and making legal changes that could make it harder for a large tech
company to buy another firm, the aides said. One proposal aims to
put a heavier burden on companies to prove a merger doesn't hurt
competition. Another would require tech companies to report more
mergers to U.S. antitrust authorities to review.
Lawmakers generally agree the issues posed by tech companies
warrant congressional action. The disagreements are appearing as
they begin to hammer out the details.
"It's very important that we proceed with a scalpel and not a
chain saw, " said Rep. Ken Buck (R., Col.), a member of the House
panel, last week. Mr. Buck has spent recent days seeking support
from other Republicans to publish their own recommendations for
reining in Big Tech. A draft of that document, first reported by
Politico, outlines areas of agreement with Democrats but warns
against unduly expanding the government's power.
Democratic members of the House panel declined interviews in the
days ahead of the report's release.
The House probe has been bipartisan from its inception in June
2019. That doesn't always happen in the lower chamber which, unlike
the Senate, operates under rules that give members of the minority
party little power.
Republican and Democratic staff coordinated on how to structure
the inquiry, and when the committee demanded documents from Apple,
Amazon, Google and Facebook, the letters were signed by members
from both sides of the aisle.
Some of that bipartisanship began to fray earlier this year when
Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), one of the House's most conservative
members, took over the top Republican job on the House Judiciary
Committee, of which the antitrust subcommittee is a part. When the
antitrust panel sent a bipartisan letter in May demanding testimony
from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Mr. Jordan didn't sign it, instead
issuing a statement questioning whether Democrats had already
decided they wanted to break up the company.
In July, the companies' CEOs testified at a videoconference
hearing and received almost universally adversarial questions from
both sides of the aisle. Some Republicans pressed the CEOs about
allegedly unfair treatment of online speech by conservatives, an
issue that Democrats dismissed as lacking in evidence.
After one round of Mr. Jordan's questions, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon
(D. Pa.) said to the witnesses: "I'd like to redirect your
attention to antitrust law rather than fringe conspiracy theories."
That prompted a shouting match as Mr. Jordan denied the charge.
Write to Ryan Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 06, 2020 09:50 ET (13:50 GMT)
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