Big Tech edges closer to break up after deeply unhinged markup

Technology

After nearly two years of investigations, the House Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to push forward on a package of bills targeting the power large tech companies like Amazon and Facebook hold over the market.

“With this package of historic legislation, we have the opportunity to take control of our own destiny to be a global leader in developing rules of the road for the digital economy,” Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said at the top of the hearing. “We cannot be complacent and we cannot delay.”

But while all six bills were eventually approved out of committee… delay, delay, the lawmakers did.

The markup kicked off Wednesday morning and lasted through Thursday afternoon with a few short breaks in between. The package was introduced earlier this month with broad bipartisan support. But this week’s markup shows that there are still fractures in both the Republican and Democratic caucuses, signaling that the measures aren’t out of hot water yet and could still fail when they come up for an (undetermined) final vote on the House floor.

OKAY, BUT WHAT DO THE BILLS SAY?
Lawmakers started off with some of the less controversial measures. At the top, they approved a bill that would update filing fees for mergers for the first time in nearly two decades. The bill, called the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, would give the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission more money to take on antitrust cases against tech giants.

Another bill, called the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act, was also approved favorably and heads to the House floor for a final vote. If it passes, the bill would make sure state attorneys general who file federal antitrust cases against a company like Facebook would be able to have that case heard in the court they select.

Things got a lot testier once the committee reached the third bill, the ACCESS Act — especially among Democrats representing California, the home of Silicon Valley. The bill outlines new standards for data portability and interoperability. Democrats like Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Republicans like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) argued that the bill could make it easier for American companies to transfer user data to Chinese ones.

The bill was later approved, but Democrats, like Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), promised that their decision to push the bill through committee didn’t mean that they will vote for it later on the floor.

Early Thursday morning, lawmakers moved on to the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act. The measure would bar large tech platforms from buying up nascent competitors — think Facebook buying Instagram in 2012. After hours of debate, it was approved, but with three California Democrats voting against the measure. Before ending at 5AM Thursday, lawmakers also approved the American Choice and Innovation Act, a nondiscrimination measure that bars companies like Google from giving preference to their own products on their own services.

Finally, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act made its way out of the committee. It would force large companies like Amazon to sell off different lines of business that conflict with one another. The bill eliminates the ability of large platforms to use the control they have in different lines of business to hurt competitors.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Well, they’re headed to the House floor! There will be over 400 lawmakers voting on these bills instead of the couple dozen who marked them up over the last couple hours. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) seems eager to approve these measures.

At a press conference Thursday, Pelosi told reporters, “There has been concern on both sides of the aisle about the consolidation of power of the tech companies and this legislation is an attempt to address that.” She continued, “We are not going to ignore the consolidation that has happened and the concern that exists on both sides of the aisle.”

Of the six bills, the merger filing fee measure is the only one headed into conference where House and Senate lawmakers will tinker with the language before it lands on President Biden’s desk. The other five will also need to be introduced in the Senate, move through the committee process, and reach at least 60 votes on the floor, so long as the filibuster stays in place.

Earlier this month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) said she would be introducing companion legislation for some of those measures in the Senate. As of publication, it’s unclear when those bills will be introduced.