The Strange Coalition Poised to Score a Win Against Big Tech
Congress doesn’t get much done these days, but one major piece of legislation stands a good chance of becoming law thanks to a bizarre coalition that includes virtually every Democrat not from California and some of the most conservative members of the GOP caucus.
The bill, called the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, or AICO, aims to curb Big Tech’s monopoly power. The bill’s supporters claim it will keep Amazon and Google, who have monopoly power over Big Tech, from giving their own products an edge over other platforms. According to tech companies, the bill would thwart innovation and harm consumers. It also threatens cybersecurity.
AICO, however, is poised to pass both the House and Senate in the next few weeks thanks to the support of progressives such as Reps. Pramila Japal and Jamie Raskin from Maryland as well as MAGA Republicans such as Reps. Paul Gosar and Gaetz, who are from Arizona. Tucker Carlson has been a Fox News host of far-right and is currently the show’s most-watched cable channel news programme. devoted segments to the bill’s merits.
As efforts to revive a slimmed-down version of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda have stalled and the latest round of bipartisan negotiations on gun control may be months away from bearing fruit, if they do at all, AICO might be the only substantial action Congress takes before pivoting to the midterms.
“This is the show,” says a senior House Democratic staffer not authorized to speak publicly on the bill.
This legislation is now ready for full vote by all three chambers. It already passed the Senate Judiciary Committees as well as the House. Axios reports that Chuck Schumer is the Senate Majority leader and has promised to bring AICO to a vote on the floor by the beginning of summer. A Congressional aide who is familiar with the issue tells TIME that the bill will pass the House once it has passed the Senate.
Multiple sources claim Speaker Nancy Pelosi will wait for the Senate approval before moving the bill to the House floor.
Eight Democrats in the House are likely to vote no against the measure. The House is dominated by Democrats with a 13-seat majority. However, the other half are opposed to it, and the remainder remain undecided according to the whip count. The bill has nine Republican cosponsors. This includes members of Freedom Caucus like Reps. Ken Buck from Colorado and Lance Gooden, Texas. However, it should have enough support to get through the final hurdle.
Biden may sign AICO’s rare show of bipartisanship. It reflects Capitol Hill’s keen interest in taking on tech behemoths. They have been antagonizing different sections of Congress for different purposes, creating this bizarre-bedfellows alliance.
Democrats in varying levels see the necessity to confront dangerous levels of economic concentration. Republicans will take steps to eliminate dominant communications platforms that were staffed mostly by liberals. These people are accused of suppressing conservative speech.
The agreement between Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Democrat from Minnesota) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Republican of Iowa), is very limited. The respective chairswoman and ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittees on Antitrust Issues agree that it is important to prevent powerhouse platforms such as Amazon and Google abusing their gatekeeper status. AICO was introduced by them together in 2013 and has attracted support from a wide range of Senate members, including Cory Booker (Liberal) of New Jersey and Josh Hawley (Right-Wing Firebrand).
Another tech bill is the Open App Markets Act. This would make Apple and Google more open to competing marketplaces. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed it by a 20-2 bipartisan vote. It is anticipated that both chambers will pass the legislation together with AICO.
Despite the fact that these measures are supported by a large majority of Americans, they face a serious time crunch. If AICO doesn’t pass before Congress breaks for its five-week summer recess in early August, there’s little hope it can get done in the fall, when all eyes will turn toward the midterms. “There’s going to be a lot of things that come up after August,” Buck tells TIME. “It will be more difficult to get these passed.”
If Republicans are able to win an election that is favorable enough for them to retain control of both the House and Senate, many believe, then this effort may be defeated. One of the bill’s biggest opponents on Capitol Hill is Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California who is the frontrunner to be the next Speaker if the GOP takes back the House.
Garrett Ventry, Buck’s former former chief of staff who is now a Republican consultant and lobbyist, notes that a multimillion-dollar effort by the major tech firms has failed every step of the way in blocking either bill from advancing. “They tried to stop the bills from even getting introduced. They attempted to prevent the bills getting passed by committee. Now they are trying to stop the bills from getting passed out of Congress.”
“But the votes are there, so the only way they can win is if they run out the clock,” Ventry adds.
The race for the top is now. After receiving input from lawmakers on the fence, Klobuchar released an updated version AICO. The changes include more permissive language that allows platforms to engage in certain kinds of anti-competitive conduct to protect users’ privacy. Interoperability, which is also prohibited by the text prohibits platforms depriving their competitors of access to their software systems. Klobuchar’s communications director, Jane Meyer, tells TIME the Minnesota lawmaker is “working expeditiously with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bring this bill to the floor.”
The National Taxpayers Union, an advocacy group that has received support from tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook, argued last week that Kloubuchar’s update did not address the bill’s biggest flaws.
“AICO isn’t going to help consumers. It’s a big government bill aimed at empowering bureaucrats in Washington to exercise greater control over technology companies,” says Will Yepez, the group’s policy and government affairs manager. “Lawmakers who want to do something about Big Tech can do that without taking heavy-handed action.”
The primary obstacle for the principal advocates of the legislation is simply to get them on the floor so they can be voted upon. “These bills have never been about whip count, because it’s always been pretty clear that if you hold a vote, they will pass,” says a former Senate aide now lobbying for the legislation. “People don’t want to stand with Big Tech.”
Many polls show that the majority of Americans support legislation to limit the influence of tech companies. A July 2021 survey by the Future of Tech Commission found that 80 percent of registered voters want the federal government to “curb the influence of Big Tech companies.” A new poll this month by Hart Research found that 76% of voters in swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Nevada support AICO after being told what the bill intends to do.
Still, Pelosi wants to see AICO pass the evenly split Senate—where so many Democratic priorities die—before putting her members through a vote that might draw pushback from some of their constituents. Her fellow California Democrats are many from Silicon Valley, and she is only thinking about them.
AICO must pass the AICO test before Congress can ram through any other legislation.
Some legislators want to prioritize measures that they feel would resonate more with voters, such as a bill to provide funding to ease the pandemic-caused supply-chain crisis that has already passed the Senate, and a heavily watered down-version of Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better framework that might draw the pivotal support of Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia. At the same time, there’s a renewed interest in passing new red flag laws and expanding background checks after recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
The challenge for AICO’s supporters, sources say, will be to finagle the bill through a busy summer docket—especially as the Big Tech lobbying firms intensify their effort to thwart it.
“Anytime you have a bill that brings together not your average combination of members, it’s always tricky to figure out how it’s going to happen,” a senior Democratic Senate aide says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen—until it’s happening.”
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