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House panel approves plan to help break up tech giants – POLITICO

Democrat Cori Bush of Missouri — who originally opted to vote present — changed her vote to push the legislation through. Three other members present for the rest of the markup didn’t take part in the final vote: Democrats Lucy McBath of Georgia and Deborah Ross of North Carolina and Republican Burgess Owens of Utah, who had voted in favor of several of the other antitrust measures.

The antitrust push has triggered a huge lobbying fight by the tech companies and their trade groups against the proposals. It’s also split both the Democrats and Republicans, with members of both parties fighting for and against the legislation.

The bill would allow federal regulators to sue to break up companies that both operate a dominant platform and sell their own goods or services on it, if the arrangement poses an “irreconcilable conflict of interest.”

Led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the bill would put regulators on a collision course with companies like Amazon that compete with third-party vendors on their own marketplace.

Jayapal said the bill was based on previous antitrust actions like the AT&T breakup and the initial proposed breakup of Microsoft.

“It was strong antitrust regulation that created the space for the great renaissance of technology that later drove a lot of the U.S. economy,” said Jayapal, whose district includes Amazon’s headquarters. “We don’t want innovation and competition to stop here; we want it to continue for many others.”

The at-times contentious proceeding ended on a fairly high note, with an extended discussion between Jayapal and several Republicans including Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who offered an amendment that would streamline the court proceedings needed to separate the tech companies.

Although that amendment wasn’t adopted, Jayapal pledged to work with Bishop on incorporating his proposal before the bill moves to the floor. Antitrust panel Chair Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) called the streamlined proposal “the most intriguing” idea to emerge out of the markup and pledged to continue discussions about changing the bill to draw greater support from GOP members.

During the markup discussion, Gaetz urged his Republican colleagues to support the legislation.

“Many of my colleagues have talked about the need to break up Big Tech,” Gaetz said. “It’s time to put your vote where your rhetoric has been.”

Judiciary’s top Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio voted against the measure and five of the six bills in the antitrust package. In a statement after the markup, Jordan said the bills do nothing to address alleged bias against conservatives and accused Democrats of allowing the tech companies to write the legislation.

Those GOP votes may prove crucial if the legislation ever receives a floor vote given discontent among Democrats, particularly a number from California.

At the markup, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents San Jose, compared the bill to a grenade that would “blow up the tech economy.”

If the tech companies “were dominating overall in an impermissive way, you would see, like tall trees, things shriveling at the bottom, and that is not what we have found,” Lofgren said.

Lofgren and two other California Democrats — Eric Swalwell and Lou Correa — voted against five of the six antitrust bills.

Immediately after the markup, the three Democrats sent a joint statement with Judiciary’s two California Republicans, Darrell Issa and Tom McClintock, arguing the legislation is “not close to ready for Floor consideration.”

And while dozens of groups that supported the bills heralded their advance, the antimonopoly advocacy group American Economic Liberties Project, which had remained noticeably silent over the past three weeks since the package’s introduction, released a statement raising concerns about the package.

Sarah Miller, the group’s executive director, said the bills defer too much to the agencies, which don’t have that good a track record, and expressed concern that courts may read the legislation too narrowly.

“Addressing Big Tech’s abuses effectively as intended will require adjustments to the legislation,” Miller said.

The committee had previously approved five other antitrust bills Wednesday and early Thursday morning. Those are:

H.R. 3826 (117), which would prohibit dominant digital platforms from acquiring would-be rivals, a tactic that Facebook and Google have wielded especially aggressively.

— H.R. 3816 (117), which would bar platforms such as Apple’s App Store and Amazon’s Marketplace from giving their own products unfair advantages over those of competitors.

— H.R. 3849 (117), which the committee spent seven hours debating. It would make it easier for consumers to transfer their personal information from one digital service to another.

— H.R. 3843 (117), which would increase the merger fees that regulators collect from companies.

— H.R. 3460 (117), which would give state attorneys general control over which courts hear antitrust cases. That bill emerged after Google attempted to move one of its multistate antitrust suits from Texas federal court to a venue in its home state of California.