WASHINGTON - At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Merrick Garland reiterated the Department of Justice’s continued support for the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA)’s bipartisan legislation to restore competition in digital markets.
“We have supported… the American Innovation and Choice Online Act…We are always interested in working with Congress to modernize the antitrust laws to take account of the kind of network effects and two-sided platforms that we now have in our high technology companies,” said Garland.
Garland also emphasized his support for Klobuchar and Grassley’s bipartisan Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, which was signed into law as part of the government funding package last year.
“Senator Grassley and I worked together on passing, as you know, the changes to the merger fees…and we're very pleased that that went through and it had I think 88 senators supporting an amendment at the end of the year on the budget. And I assume you're going to use those resources in a good way as they start coming in,” Klobuchar commented.
“First, gratitude for the merger fees increase. It gives us the opportunity to staff up and be able to have enough lawyers and economists,” Garland responded.
In October 2021, Klobuchar and Grassley introduced the American Innovation and Choice Online Act to set commonsense rules of the road for major digital platforms to ensure they cannot unfairly preference their own products and services. In January 2022, the legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a bipartisan vote of 16-6, making it the first major bill on technology competition to advance to the Senate floor since the dawn of the internet.
The American Innovation and Choice Online Act has been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business, Center for American Progress, Consumer Reports, the Consumer Federation of America, Public Knowledge, leading national security experts, leading antitrust legal scholars, small business organizations, and over 60 small and medium-sized companies and trade associations, including Spotify, Wyze, FuboTV and Quora.
Signed into law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act updated merger filing fees for the first time since 2001, lowering fees on smaller acquisitions and increasing them for the largest mergers, raising additional revenue that Congress can use to fund antitrust enforcement. The legislation also included the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act, Klobuchar’s legislation with Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) to empower state antitrust enforcement by making it easier for state attorneys general litigating antitrust cases to remain in their selected courts.
A rough transcript of Klobuchar’s exchange with Attorney General Garland is given below. A video is available for online viewing HERE.
Senator Klobuchar: Thank you. Senator Grassley and I worked together on passing, as you know, the changes to the merger fees. It was kind of a lot of drama at the end of the year. And we're very pleased that that went through and it had I think 88 senators supporting an amendment at the end of the year on the budget. And I assume you're going to use those resources in a good way as they start coming in. And, but I really wanted to focus on some of the legal changes we'd like to see. Senator Lee and I were pleased the venue bill pass, that he led. And I know we also have a bill on the marketing side on Google. We're going to be having a hearing coming up on that topic. And I know the Department recently announced a new antitrust case against Google for its blocking competition in digital advertising. But could you talk a little bit about beyond that, what you think legal changes, law changes would be helpful as we seeing a changing internet economy and on the privacy kids side, which Senator Durbin asked about, we haven't seen any changes to our laws, but also on the antitrust side on the marketing and the self- preferencing of their products, whether it's Amazon or Apple, we haven't seen changes. And Senator Blackburn and Senator Blumenthal have worked together on the App Store bill. Talk about what you'd like to see to give you the tools to better combat the issues that we're seeing.
Attorney General Garland: So first, gratitude for the merger fees increase. It gives us the opportunity to staff up and be able to have enough lawyers and economists to oppose private sector, which is way more than we do, and we still have fewer antitrust employees than we had in the 70s, the last time I was in the Justice Department.
Klobuchar: You have the biggest companies the world has ever seen to try to deal with.
Garland: Yes, exactly. On the legislation side, we have supported I think it's called the online choice, American Innovation and Choice Online Act. And the Open Apps Act. I think that's close to the correct title. We've had testimony by Assistant Attorney General Kanter with respect to the Open Apps Act. We are always interested in working with Congress to modernize the antitrust laws to take account of the kind of network effects and two-sided platforms that we now have in our high technology companies.
Klobuchar: Well, thank you and of course you join a number of Republicans as well as the NFIB has made this a huge priority in terms of passing these bills. Thank you.