The 116th Congress has been sworn in, and House Democrats have declared they intend to have serious oversight of corporate monopolies and to investigate lax enforcement of antitrust laws-a welcome sign that lawmakers intend to fight anticompetitive mergers and behavior that harms competition and consumers.
Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) now chairs the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, and he has been a strong critic of weak antitrust enforcement, and also called for stronger measures to stop anticompetitive mergers and strengthen antitrust laws. In a December 2017 speech he said that "we are in a monopoly moment...waves of anticompetitive mergers—deals that should never have made it out of the board room—have tested the boundaries and durability of the antitrust laws while straining the razor-thin resources of the antitrust agencies. Economic concentration is at a three-decade high and has structurally weakened competition on an economy-wide basis." Cicilline has helped establish an antitrust caucus and sponsored several antitrust reform bills, and intends to hold in depth hearings on consolidation and anticompetitive practices, especially in health care markets.
Finally, he intends to pursue aggressive oversight of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC was established in 1914 and is the country's chief antitrust enforcement, charged with promoting consumer protection and preventing and eliminating anticompetitive business practices. But over the past forty years, America's industries have seen a wave of consolidation and mergers that has left many industries dominated by a few colossal firms. And too often, the FTC has been on the sidelines and failed to take action.
Antitrust advocates at the Roosevelt Institute and the Open Markets Institute are enthusiastic about the new leadership and what it means for antitrust enforcement. These reform efforts have been building for a while; House Democrats noticed that problems of increased consolidation were often similar to income inequality that they were trying to reduce. And last year, before the midterm elections, Democrats unveiled their Better Deal platform, which called for "tough post-merger review." This plan would require frequent, independent reviews of companies after they merged, and also require corrective measures if regulators find "abusive monopolistic conditions where previously approved measures fail to make good on their intended outcomes." It would also create a consumer competition advocate who would work to break up monopolies.
Other representatives are also supportive of stronger antitrust enforcement. Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who now chairs the House Judiciary Committee, recently stated that Congress had abdicated its antitrust role for far too long and that a number of business-friendly administrators had been lax in antitrust laws. And Representative Doug Collins (R-GA) has been critical of monopolistic practices in health care, including the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) market, which is dominated by three massive companies.
We look forward to seeing stronger antitrust oversight and enforcement, and hope that lawmakers and officials from both parties will join in these efforts.