The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The House’s victory against Big Tech was limited. But it’s still a victory.

Logos for Apple, Meta, Google and Amazon. (Uncredited/AP)

The bipartisan gun-safety reform signed into law this summer was rather mild. It did not ban assault-style weapons. It did not increase the minimum age to purchase such weapons to 21. It did not enact a federal red-flag law. But it was a start. And it was a rare win against what seemed to be an invincible interest group.

The same could be said about the antitrust bill the House passed last week to rein in Big Tech.

The bill would allow state attorneys general to pick the venue for enforcement cases (preventing companies from having a home-court advantage in places such as Silicon Valley); increase merger fees for giant corporations; and require companies to disclose subsidies from foreign companies that pose a threat to our national security. Overall, House passage is a substantial loss for Big Tech, which launched a ferocious multimillion-dollar campaign to prevent any regulatory changes.

The legislation did not contain some of the most robust measures originally proposed, such as a key provision to prevent tech companies from favoring their own products on their platforms. Also excluded was a provision to shift the burden of proof in merger litigation to the companies. But in the spirit of “something is better than nothing,” the champion of the antitrust push, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), supported the scaled-down House bill.

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“This package of bills will update merger filing fees and help ensure that the federal antitrust agencies can be properly funded, that information on foreign subsidies is made available to federal enforcers, and that state antitrust enforcement can proceed more efficiently and without needless delays,” Klobuchar said in a joint statement with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). There is bipartisan support for the measure in the Senate, which can vote on it when senators return after a recess.

The bill passed by a comfortable 242-184 margin, including 39 Republican votes in favor of the bill. Nearly all of the 16 Democrats who voted no came from California, home to many of the Big Tech companies. Apparently, the power of Big Tech’s support outweighed these lawmakers’ professed concern for even mild antitrust legislation.

Should those who believe Big Tech has become too powerful be pleased or frustrated with the bill? A little of both.

As with the gun bill, a victory against powerful, well-funded lobbyists who have turned back virtually every previous attempt at regulation can be seen as a victory for consumers and the free market. There is reason for antitrust advocates to cheer, especially if this measure is the first and not the last effort to rein in an industry that has managed to enrage both sides of the aisle. (Republicans imagine these companies discriminate against conservatives, despite evidence to the contrary. Democrats are angry at platforms for their weak efforts to take down hate speech and disinformation as promised.)

It’s easy to be discouraged about the power of dark money and corporations. But powerful business interests took their lumps this session. This is true not only for the gun lobby and Big Tech, but also Big Pharma, which now faces cost control measures, and corporations more generally, which will have to pay minimum federal tax rates. Voter outrage about massive corporate profits, tax avoidance schemes and price-gouging might not be enough to totally ignore heavily funded lobbyists, but it is helping to level the playing field. It’s about time.

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