Pro News

Bill to boost funds for antitrust enforcers bogged down in Senate

BY: JOSH SISCO | 12/05/2022 11:37 AM EST

A bill to increase funding for federal antitrust enforcers by more than a billion dollars over the next five years — as regulators step up their efforts to police the tech sector and the broader economy — is bogged down in the Senate after backers tried and failed to fast-track it for passage shortly before Thanksgiving.

For a bipartisan group of lawmakers looking to give the Justice Department’s antitrust division and Federal Trade Commission more resources, that likely means focusing their efforts on attaching the measure to a must-pass year end spending package, according to legislative aids and other backers of the bill.

That could be doable. A previous iteration of the legislation was attached to the United States Innovation and Competition Act, which passed the Senate in March, 68-28, with several Republicans joining Democrats to vote for it.

After Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in mid-November sought to speed the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, H.R. 3843, through the chamber, a trio of Senators including Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) put a hold on the measure and thwarted quick passage, according to three people with knowledge of situation. A third Senator whose identity couldn’t be learned also placed a hold, said the people, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about a sensitive issue.

Klobuchar had hoped to win unanimous consent to pass the bill, which would help preserve precious floor time during a busy lame duck period. The measure already has support from influential Republicans with Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issuing a joint statement of support for the House counterpart that passed in September.

Spokespeople for Klobuchar and Scott declined to comment. A spokesperson for Paul did not respond for comment.

While relatively uncontroversial compared to other antitrust legislation targeted at the tech sector, the bill is vital for giving the Justice Department’s antitrust division and its sister enforcer the FTC a much needed financial boost, according to current officials at both agencies. The Congressional Budget Office estimated it would raise an additional $1.4 billion over the next five years.

The bill passed the House after a contentious back and forth in which the normally aligned Republicans Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) sparred over whether the increase in funding would further President Joe Biden’s progressive agenda.

A previous version with only the court venue provisions was passed by the Senate, but after the House passed a more expansive version, the Senate must now clear the measure again.

About half of the money that pays for federal antitrust enforcement comes from fees companies pay when they file their deals with regulators to be reviewed. For the biggest deals, those worth more than $1 billion, companies pay a flat fee of $280,000. The bill would dramatically increase that, raising the fee to $400,000 for deals valued between $1 billion and $2 billion; $800,000 for deals up to $5 billion; and $2.25 million for deals valued over $5 billion.

Last year the White House laid out an aggressive competition policy agenda, and unless they get more money, the heads of the agencies — Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter and FTC Chair Lina Khan — will be forced to do more with less.

The Justice Department and FTC are currently litigating resource-intensive cases against Google and Meta, respectively. The DOJ is investigating Apple and the FTC is investigating Amazon, and cases against those companies will also tax the agencies. POLITICO reported nearly a year ago that a DOJ case against Apple and a potential second case against Google were getting snagged in budget-related delays.

The bill would also give state attorneys general more discretion over the court in which they choose to bring a federal antitrust case, as well as requiring companies to disclose subsidies from foreign adversaries like China and Russia, as part of a merger review.

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap