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US Senators Look To Pass Antitrust Reforms Before Midterms

 |  June 5, 2022

Advocates of recent antitrust proposals fear that if congressional leadership doesn’t usher it through before the midterms, or at least the end of the year, it could die, reported CNBC.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a Senate bill that closely resembles an earlier House version, advanced out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this year by a wide margin.

Known among staff and lawmakers as the self-preferencing or anti-discrimination bill, the legislation would prohibit dominant tech platforms like Amazon, Apple and Google from giving preferential treatment to their own services in marketplaces they operate. If passed, it could prevent Google from having its own travel recommendations at the top of search results, for example. Or Amazon might have to ensure its own products are ranked by the same criteria as competitors’ products.

The bill has overcome intense lobbying from the tech industry, and there are increasingly signs it will move forward before the August recess.

Advocates feel there’s little time to spare. They cite the probability that with Republican control of the House following the November vote, the party would follow current caucus leaders who have signaled that antitrust reform would be a lower priority. In the digital space, Republican House leaders have been focused more on content moderation and privacy issues.

Given that backdrop, onlookers are wondering: What will it take for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to give the bills time on the floor for a vote?

Sources tell CNBC. Schumer met about the status of antitrust legislation on May 18 with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chairs of the Judiciary Committee and subcommittee on antitrust, respectively, according to a Democratic source familiar with the conversation. (The source, like others who are not named in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss behind-the-scenes conversations in Congress.)

Schumer asked Klobuchar, the bill’s lead sponsor alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to release the latest version of the text that has input from members on both sides over the next couple of weeks, and Klobuchar released the latest language last Wednesday. Schumer told the pair he fully supports the bill and is committed to putting it on the floor for a vote by early summer, according to the source.

It’s unclear if the bill has the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. Some reports have suggested Democratic leaders are waiting to have enough votes to pass the bills before bringing them to the floor. But some advocates say it would be best to put lawmakers’ feet to the fire by making them go on the record with their votes, gambling that many won’t want to be seen as weak on Big Tech.

CNBC spoke with lawmakers, advocates and opponents of the legislation and congressional staffers involved in discussions around the bills to learn what it might take to move forward as Congress races against the clock to pass tech antitrust reform.

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