high-profile antitrust bill intended to curb the power of tech giants like Amazon and Google appears to have enough support to pass Congress but likely won’t be voted on before Election Day. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell TIME they don’t expect Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring up the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, known as AICO, for a floor vote before the November elections.
“Doubt it,” Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri and a co-sponsor of the legislation, said when asked whether there would be a vote on the measure before the midterms. “I hope, but it doesn’t look like it to me.” A senior Democratic Senate aide likewise told TIME that there is “no chance” the Senate will vote on the bill before Congress breaks on Sept. 30, at which point most lawmakers turn their eyes to the campaign trail.
That’s not to say a Senate vote on the bill before the midterms it’s impossible. The Senate floor is controlled by Schumer as the majority leader. This means that AICO needs to be passed before Speaker Nancy Pelosi allows the House’s vote. But many of the bill’s fiercest champions have essentially given up hope that lawmakers will be able to send the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk ahead of the congressional recess.
“It will be difficult to get it up in the next two weeks,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, and one of AICO’s lead sponsors, told TIME, referring to the tight time frame when legislators will be mostly focused on passing a continuing resolution before Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown. The chances of passing any bill after that are slim.
If Congress doesn’t vote on the legislation before the election, they could potentially take it up during the so-called lame-duck session that takes place in November and December. A bipartisan group composed of Senators was working to pass a bill that protects the right to interracial and same-sex marriage. The vote would now be delayed until after the election when it may receive more support from Republicans.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (Democrat from Minnesota) acknowledged that AICO was being considered in Senate. She also stated to TIME in a statement.
“Against all odds, we have passed a bill out of committee to take action to protect consumers and small businesses and put rules of the road in place for dominant tech platforms,” Klobuchar said. “We have a strong bipartisan coalition in both the House and Senate pushing this bill forward, and the American people are on our side. Sen. Schumer is committed to working with me for a vote, and whether this bill comes to the floor before or after the midterms, we will take action.”
The delay brings yet another obstacle in the continuing saga for Congress to rein in Big Tech’s monopoly power. AICO legislation would prevent Amazon and Google, among others from prioritizing their products over those of their competitors. It’s being held up along with a narrower companion bill, the Open App Markets Act, which would force Apple and Google to open up their app stores to rival marketplaces. Both the House judiciary and Senate majorities have already voted for both bills to be sent to their respective chambers. That’s led to months of waiting on Schumer to schedule a vote in the Senate.
Sources tell TIME that the House won’t act on AICO until the Senate does because Pelosi doesn’t want to needlessly put her caucus through what would be a difficult vote for some of her members, especially those in California. The maneuvering has been a source of frustration for some of the measure’s House champions, such as Rep. Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, who is a lead sponsor of the bill. “Why don’t they bring it up in the House?” Buck tells TIME. “Maybe Big Tech owns them. It’s not clear to me. They point their fingers at each other. It’s ridiculous. They will pass legislation whenever and wherever they like. Pelosi has had plenty of tough votes for her members.” The speaker’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The main sponsors of the bill’s Senate version, Klobuchar and Grassley, both say it has more than enough votes to pass the upper chamber, which has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Grassley claims that there are over 20 Senate Republicans who would vote in favor of the bill. It is expected that most Senate Democrats will vote in favor of it. Schumer says that he supports the bill but has not yet made any commitments about when it will be brought to the floor.
While his office has suggested he intends to hold a vote on the measure, his reluctance has led some advocates to suspect he is playing into Big Tech’s strategy of running out the clock. Supporters of the bill including privacy-focused tech companies such as DuckDuckGo have been urging Congress to pass the bill in the shortest time possible.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Schumer delayed the vote on antitrust legislation throughout the spring and summer in order to ensure Congress could first pass the bills most beneficial to Democrats who face difficult electoral challenges. Indeed, Schumer surprised much of Washington last month when he managed to shepherd the Inflation Reduction Act to Biden’s desk. The bill, which is historic, aims to combat climate change, reduce prescription drug prices, and increase taxes on the wealthiest corporations. The CHIPS and Science Acts were passed to support domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing, and PACT Acts for health care.
Now, Democratic operatives say he’s afraid to put his vulnerable members in the crosshairs of Big Tech months just before an election, when those companies and their wealthy leaders can pour money into helping efforts to sink their bids for reelection.
Others speculate that the more than $120 million that the tech behemoths have spent campaigning against the bill—including through ubiquitous television and online ads that argue the bill will stifle innovation, harm consumers, and jeopardize cybersecurity—is paying dividends.
“Pressure from Big Tech,” Hawley said, when asked why he thinks Schumer won’t bring AICO up for a vote. “It’s just millions of dollars spent. In truth, it’s also possible that Democrats are infatuated with Big Tech. It’s very useful to them. I think they kind of like it, so I think they don’t really want to get rid of it.”
Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The majority leader’s stalling has drawn the ire of progressive activists who are eager for lawmakers to prevent the tech giants from abusing their gatekeeper status. Fight for the Future (a liberal advocacy group) will hold its Labor Day weekend meeting. hired an airplane to fly a message over New York beaches that said, “Schumer: Help NY Workers, Not Big Tech!” That same group has for months been playing a John Oliver segment in support of the bill on repeat on a large screen outside of Schumer’s Brooklyn home.
Some lawmakers are skeptical the bill has the votes needed to pass, and suggest that that’s the real reason Schumer hasn’t called a vote. “I don’t think there will be a vote unless the authors are fairly certain that they have 60 votes,” Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, tells TIME. “That’s pretty standard protocol for Sen. Schumer. He tells people, ‘You gotta demonstrate you have the votes before I commit to burning the floor time.’”
Yet earlier this summer, AICO’s authors said they had precisely that. “I think it’s very clear that we have the votes to pass both those bills in the House and in the Senate,” Rep. David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and the author of the House version, told TIME. “Grassley and Klobuchar have the votes,” a lobbyist pushing for the legislation previously told TIME. “Sen. “Sen. He doesn’t get the whip count wrong.”
But whether the votes are there or not, some of the bill’s supporters are growing less optimistic that the bill will become law than they were earlier in the summer. While AICO certainly isn’t dead, those who are hungry for Congress to crack down on Big Tech are getting more nervous by the day.
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