Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pledging to beef up antitrust oversight and consumer protection in her presidential campaign’s latest round of policy proposals, issues that have animated her during her tenure in the Senate. She also floated the possibility of investigating tech company mergers that have already happened, like Facebook.
“That’s one example,” Klobuchar told POLITICO in an interview, adding that there are also “huge competitive issues” with drug and online travel companies.
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“We want to be a capitalist society that works for everyone, and that means real competition that brings down prices, brings in new products and ideas, and that’s not going to happen if we have a few big guys dominating various industries in the United States,” Klobuchar said. “We have to look at it going forward, and then we also have to look at it looking backwards.”
What would the plan do?
The Minnesota Democrat’s proposal calls for broad reforms — without getting heavily into specifics — at agencies charged with enforcing antitrust policy, as well as protecting digital consumers with more aggressive protections online.
On antitrust, Klobuchar called for reexamining mergers where “the integration of services insulate tech companies from competition.” It’s the type of consolidation for which Facebook, which bought Instagram and WhatsApp, has recently come under fire. She also pledged to increase the filing fees for mergers, “so that the largest deals start paying their fair share.”
On consumer protection, Klobuchar named a series of improvements across the digital landscape. In particular, Klobuchar promised to give consumers more control over their data by requiring an “opt-out” option on data collection and “requiring notice within 72 hours when a data breach occurs.” But Klobuchar doesn’t detail exactly how — or through what mechanism — she’d return control to consumers. She also committed to taking on “digital redlining and racial bias built into algorithms.”
The plan also reiterates Klobuchar’s commitment to rural broadband, a subject she’s talked about frequently on the campaign trail and in her first campaign policy release on infrastructure. She calls for connecting all Americans to broadband by 2022 and restoring net neutrality rules.
Klobuchar’s plan also calls for updating the tax code to support “gig workers” by establishing a national paid leave program, mandatory sick leave and portable retirement savings accounts, funded by employers.
How would it work?
Klobuchar broadly pledged to add muscle to antitrust and consumer protection agencies, but it’s not yet clear whether she would seek these changes through executive action or new legislation.
On antitrust, she cited “creating a more stringent legal standard” for approving mergers by “shifting the burden of proof” to companies to show that a merger won’t reduce competition. And Klobuchar said that courts should take not only price but considerations like vertical integration when approving major mergers.
On consumer protections, Klobuchar said she would establish “digital rules of the road” for privacy, but she doesn’t clarify how she would go about doing it. She also called for stronger enforcement authority for agencies, but does not detail what she would specifically change.
How much would it cost?
Klobuchar’s new policy plan didn’t include exact pricing details. But she said she would pay for reforms that require new spending, as well as related programs in the policy proposal like expanding rural broadbrand access, by taxing wealthy Americans. In particular, the plan calls for “equaliz[ing] the tax treatment of capital gains and dividends” for people who earn $200,000 or more, as well as implementing the “Buffett Rule” — an Obama-era proposal for a tax on incomes above $1 million.
What have other Democrats proposed?
Elements of Klobuchar’s plan overlap with several other 2020 contenders. Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed breaking up major tech companies, like Facebook and Amazon, in her regulatory proposal earlier this year. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a one-time brewpub owner, has also called for strengthening antitrust enforcement and ban employers from asking employees to sign non-compete agreements.
Who would it help?
The plan centers on consumer protections and aims to help regular internet users. But tech companies, particularly Facebook, would likely protest an aggressive plan to reexamine their company’s status.
Who opposes it?
So far, no Democrats have expressed opposition to this kind of a plan.
Cristiano Limo contributed to this report.