GOP lawmaker: Democrats’ tech proposals will include ‘non-starters for conservatives’

The remarks signal areas of both significant agreement and disagreement between congressional Democrats and Republicans on how to ratchet up scrutiny of the world’s biggest tech companies.

According to the memo, the final report will offer “a menu of potential changes” to existing law aimed at addressing bipartisan concerns that the tech giants have unfairly squelched or scooped up competitors to detriment of their users. The recommendations will include a ban on certain types of mergers, such as on “future acquisitions of potential rivals and start-ups” by major platforms. But Republicans are unlikely to back Democrats’ more aggressive reforms, according to the memo.

Buck said he opposes not-yet-unveiled Democratic proposals aimed at “eliminating arbitration clauses and further opening companies up to class action lawsuits.” And he said he rejects antitrust subcommittee Chair David Cicilline’s (D-R.I.) idea of advancing legislation to force structural breakups of major online platforms like Amazon.

“We agree that antitrust enforcement agencies need additional resources and tools to provide proper oversight,” Buck wrote. “However, these potential changes need not be dramatic to be effective.”

The Republican recommendations mark the most extensive to surface to date out of the Judiciary Committee’s probe. Though the subcommittee’s final report has yet to be released, Democrats have floated sweeping changes such as legislation to force structural separations for tech platforms similar to Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that split investment and retail banking.

Buck wrote that the majority’s incoming report “offers a chilling look into how Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook have used their power to control how we see and understand the world.”

Other areas of agreement between himself and panel Democrats, Buck said, are proposals for legislation to “shift the burden of proof for companies pursuing mergers and acquisitions and empowering consumers to take control of their user data through data portability and interoperability standards.”

Spokespeople for the Judiciary Committee and Cicilline did not immediately offer comment.

“I agree with Chairman Cicilline that Big Tech has acted in an anticompetitive manner. The next phase is to start working on solutions,” Buck said in a statement to POLITICO Monday evening. “With a problem this significant, one shouldn’t be surprised that there is a variety of legislative solutions being offered.”

Key context: It remains unclear whether any Republicans on the subcommittee will sign onto the Democratic majority’s full recommendations. But a person familiar with the discussions, who spoke anonymously to discuss private deliberations, said the Buck memo could be incorporated into the final subcommittee report.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the full Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, has urged GOP members not to sign onto the report, POLITICO reported Friday. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the antitrust subcommittee, has come out against changing antitrust laws to address competition concerns in the tech sector.

Republicans have pushed for the report to address GOP allegations of an anti-conservative bias on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, which the companies deny and Democrats reject as baseless. In Buck’s memo, he said the incoming House antitrust report “does not address how Big Tech has used its monopolitic position in the marketplace to censor speech.”

Despite disagreements over the investigation’s final takeaways, several Republicans including Buck have offered praise for the bipartisan nature of the investigation since it began last June. Buck again applauded Cicilline’s leadership in the efforts in an interview Thursday.

What’s next: The release of the subcommittee report is now delayed after Republican members on Monday offered to negotiate on aspects of the document, a committee aide said, speaking anonymously to discuss ongoing negotiations. It had been slated for release as early as Tuesday. Its findings and policy recommendations are expected to inform future legislation on tech and antitrust by panel members.

Leah Nylen contributed to this report.

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