The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not mincing words in its critique of the Biden administration. It has officially called for federal watchdogs to launch investigations into the actions of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department. The Chamber is deeply alarmed that these agencies may have transgressed rules in their efforts to rein in Big Tech giants like Amazon, Google, Meta (formerly Facebook), and Microsoft.
"Jobs aren't the problem. Workers are the problem," the Chamber of Commerce president said on CNBC today.
She criticized Biden for "not giving any credit to business" for the economy, and for "focusing on jobs" when "finding enough qualified workers is the problem." pic.twitter.com/1rzNvrezjU
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) January 13, 2023
This urgent call for a federal inquiry is a glaring sign of escalating tensions between businesses and the Biden administration. Originally, the Chamber had sought to build a positive relationship with President Biden's team, but it appears that their efforts have fallen flat, leading them to push back against the administration.
Sean Heather, the Chamber's Senior Vice President, penned a letter to the inspectors general of the FTC and the Justice Department, alleging that these agencies have neglected their duty to pursue settlements with Big Tech companies before resorting to legal action. Heather also voiced concerns about potential biases within these agencies and requested investigators to probe whether the FTC had leaked confidential information. According to the Chamber, the FTC and the Justice Department may have run afoul of Executive Order 12988, which mandates federal agencies to attempt settlement discussions before pursuing legal remedies.
Douglas Farrar, a spokesperson for the FTC, dismissed the Chamber's accusations, contending that they misconstrue the agency's policies. The Chamber's discontent is not confined to the FTC and the Justice Department alone; it also extends to Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter and FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan, both appointed by President Biden. The Chamber criticized Kanter's involvement in the Google case, given his previous ties to the company's competitors. Additionally, they took issue with Khan's decision not to recuse herself from cases involving companies she had publicly criticized.
While it remains uncertain whether federal watchdogs will heed the Chamber's call for an investigation, Chamber Senior Vice President Sean Heather underscores the importance of ensuring proper oversight of government antitrust officers. Amid this ongoing standoff between the business community and the Biden administration, the administration persists in advocating for an overhaul of merger rules. If implemented, these new rules could offer clearer guidelines for antitrust regulators but may have a substantial impact on tech mergers and acquisitions, which have already dwindled.
The Biden administration's regulatory measures have given tech companies pause in pursuing acquisitions, owing to the uncertain regulatory landscape. Indeed, the CB Insights report shows that tech merger and acquisition deal volume in the second quarter of 2023 reached its lowest point since 2020, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies like Google, Meta, and Microsoft refrained from making any acquisitions during this period, indicating their apprehension about the challenging regulatory environment.
As tensions between businesses and the Biden administration continue to mount, the outcomes of these investigations and proposed rule changes remain uncertain. However, it's evident that the Chamber of Commerce is resolute in safeguarding the interests of businesses and is not inclined to back down.