Cracking down on Big Tech is a rare bipartisan desire, but a nearly 19-hour debate session in the House that lasted into Thursday morning revealed significant disagreement over how to do so.
The schisms were visible both within and between the parties. The result of the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of six broad antitrust bills was a display of strange alliances between Democrats and Republicans, as well as fractures within each party.
Five of the bills were ultimately reported favorably to the House by the committee, with the final bill, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, set to be debated when the committee returns from recess at 11 a.m. ET Thursday.
Even after passing out of committee, the bills’ fate remains uncertain. They would make it more difficult and expensive for Big Tech to complete mergers, prohibit them from discriminating against other businesses in their services, require data portability, and make it easier for state attorneys general to choose where to bring antitrust cases. Several lawmakers made it clear that their support in the committee would be withdrawn if additional reflection and changes were not considered.
However, within the context of the debate, such odd couples were common. On the same side of the debate, with broad support for the bills, were antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Ranking Member Ken Buck, R-Colo., subcommittee leaders who have remained close allies throughout the investigation their panel conducted into Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.
Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on the other hand, worked together on data portability amendments.
While some conservatives, such as Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, were concerned that the bills did not go far enough to address concerns that the platforms censor conservative voices, others in their party, such as Buck and Gaetz, defended them, arguing that they are effective pieces of legislation based on a 16-month investigation by the House panel.
Meanwhile, California Democrats such as Lofgren and Reps. Ted Lieu and Eric Swalwell expressed deep skepticism about how several of the bills were written, while others, such as Cicilline and subcommittee Vice Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Calif., fully supported many of the measures.
All committee members agreed that some type of reform was required to address the vast power of technology platforms.
Members on both sides, however, complained that the process was rushed, with the bills moving from introduction to markup in less than two weeks. Cicilline countered that his subcommittee had spent more than a year investigating the tech companies that inspired the bills and had held several hearings after that to help craft the legislation.
Several of the Democrats who made the most pointed criticisms of the bills were from California, the home state of several Big Tech firms.
Lofgren, Lieu, and Swalwell all expressed concern about the ACCESS Act, a bill mandating data portability standards, and its potential privacy and security implications. Swalwell was concerned that the bill would allow American companies to transfer data to Chinese companies.
Lieu also agreed to vote yes on a bill allowing state AGs to choose their venue in antitrust cases, but said he was doing so primarily to advance the debate. He said he didn’t know how he’d vote on the bill once it reached the floor, saying, “I don’t actually know who to trust on this bill,” because he hadn’t heard expert testimony on it yet.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who is not a member of the Judiciary Committee but represents the Silicon Valley district, shared similar criticisms with his California colleagues in an interview Wednesday. Khanna is concerned that one of the bills introduced by antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-RI, which would prohibit companies from discriminating against competing services, would limit platforms’ ability to remove services they deem harmful. He cited the example of a platform removing Parler in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurgency, as something that could be prohibited under the bill.
In response to an amendment from Lofgren that seemed aimed at addressing this type of concern, Cicilline said during the markup that he didn’t think it was necessary because nothing in the bill prevents platforms from enforcing their terms of service evenly.