Democrats Look to Block, Unwind Big Mergers

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Gary Arlen)

Some Democratic senators are backing a bill that would severely limit the ability of large companies to merge, including by disallowing any deals valued at over $5 billion.

That would, had it been in effect at the time, allow the Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission to have immediately blocked the mergers of Time and Warner, Viacom and CBS, Comcast and AT&T, Comcast and NBCUniversal, AT&T and Time Warner, Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, The Walt Disney Co. and 21st Century Fox, AT&T and DirecTV, Discovery and WarnerMedia, and Facebook and WhatsApp, among many others.

The Prohibiting Anticompetitive Mergers Act would also allow them to retroactively block “certain mergers” that had led to greater than a 50% market share.

Washington has been looking at unwinding Big Tech mergers, which many Democrats see as companies buying their way to monopoly by purchasing competitors before they get big enough to trigger serious antitrust scrutiny.

Also: Klobuchar Introducing Big Tech Antitrust Bill

The Computer and Communications Industry Association, whose members include a lot of those big Big Tech players, was not pleased with the latest salvo from Washington.

“This preemptive ban on mergers over an arbitrary size would harm both competition and consumers,” CCIA president Matt Schruers said. “Instead of enforcers continuing to evaluate transactions based upon whether they would substantially lessen competition, the bill would arbitrarily prohibit transactions that can bring significant benefits to consumers and the economy. This approach is ill-advised as it would eliminate judicial checks and balances that courts provide to ensure the merger review process remains apolitical.”

There is actually pretty much of a laundry list of things the new bill would do, including:

  • 1.) “Allowing the agencies to reject mergers in the first instance without court orders;
  •  2.) “Requiring the agencies to reject certain mergers, including prohibited mergers; 
  • 3.) “Prohibiting firms with a history of corporate crime or antitrust violations in the last 10 years from acquiring other companies; 
  • 4.) “Prohibiting the agencies from negotiating remedies with the merging parties; 
  • 5.) “Directing the agencies to scrutinize the labor impacts of each deal and reject mergers harmful to workers ;
  • 6.) “Prohibiting private-equity “roll up” strategies that quickly consolidate industries 
  • 7.) “Giving a greater role to other relevant agencies and state attorneys general; 
  • 8.) “Requiring courts to defer to certain agency determinations; 
  • 9.) “Stripping merger litigation from the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court;
  • 10.)  “Establish procedures for the antitrust agencies to conduct retrospective reviews and break up harmful deals that have destroyed competition.”

The bill is spearheaded by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a House version by Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.). Co-sponsors include Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Minn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Edward J Markey (D-Mass.), and in the House by Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

“For the last five decades, big companies have had almost free reign over our economy, squashing competitors, growing bigger and bigger, and abusing their market power to price gouge consumers and crush workers and small businesses,” Warren said. “This unconstitutional behavior has to stop.” ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.