Months have passed since Sen. Chuck Schumer was expected to hold a vote for an antitrust bill designed to rein in Big Tech — and its top Republican backer is slamming the gentleman from New York for dragging his feet.
“It’s past time that the Majority Leader bring up our bipartisan antitrust bill cracking down on Big Tech’s anticompetitive behavior,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told The Post. “We need a date certain for a vote, and I call on Sen. Schumer to name one — if not before August recess, then this fall.”
The renewed heat comes as the Senate gears up for its final two legislative weeks before an August recess, after which many members will be consumed with midterm campaigns.
“The Senate has spent weeks on either purely partisan legislating or inconsequential nominees,” Grassley griped.
Grassley wants Schumer to hold votes for a bill that he’s pushing alongside Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that supporters say would reduce the power of tech giants like Amazon and Meta to stifle market competition. Axios reported in May that Schumer was planning an “early summer” vote for the bill, but that season has since come and gone.
While Schumer has bided his time, Amazon, Apple, Meta and Google combined have spent more than $35 million in just the first half of this year on lobbying efforts, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. The companies have also flooded Beltway airwaves with commercials opposing antitrust bills and bought up ad space in influential newsletters like Politico Playbook.
“Sen. Klobuchar and I have worked meticulously to prepare our legislation for a floor vote,” Grassley said. “All the while, armies of lobbyists for the tech giants continue to mislead about our bill.”
The Internet Innovation and Choice Act — or so-called “non-discrimination bill” — would stop platforms from “self-preferencing” their content. For instance, Amazon would no longer be able to promote its own goods over third-party sellers on its e-commerce platform.
While Schumer has called a vote on a bill funding chipmakers and pushed to legalize marijuana, he’s demurred on the antitrust bill. He has said that he’s not ready to bring it up for the vote until the sponsors can prove they have 60 votes to pass it.
Klobuchar and Grassley both repeatedly promised that they have the necessary votes for the bill — but when the Washington Post earlier this month asked all 100 senators’ offices how they would vote, the vast majority did not give a yes or no answer.
In the telling of one senior GOP Senate aide, that leaves Grassley and Klobuchar with a “chicken and egg” problem.
According to the aide who asked not to be named, 60 senators aren’t going to publicly come out in support of the bill right now, especially if they know the legislation isn’t a priority for either party’s leadership. But if Schumer brings it up for a vote, many senators will bow to the pressure and vote for it, the aide predicted.
“Klobuchar needs commitments to bring to Schumer, but no one wants to go on record until they have to,” the aide said. “Plenty of members seem happy to keep sitting on the fence, regardless of how they might ultimately vote.”
Insiders say that several Democrats, including California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, would likely vote against the legislation. That means Grassley would have to rally at least a dozen GOP votes to push the bill through.
Still others insist “neither the Senate nor the House has the votes to pass the legislation.”
Business lobbying groups including the Chamber of Commerce and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform have been making Grassley’s job more difficult by urging Republicans to vote against the bill and other proposals for months. Both groups have taken money from Big Tech companies that would be impacted by the bill.
In July, Americans for Tax Reform urged GOP lawmakers to sign onto a draft letter opposing the bill addressed to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The previously unreported letter claimed that the bill would “grow the size and scope of government, worsen conservative censorship, and increase inflationary pressure on American families” and force tech companies into a “‘mother-may-I’ relationship with the federal government.”
On the Democratic party’s left flank, meanwhile, more than a dozen members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to Schumer on Friday, writing that two antitrust bills including the Grassley-Klobuchar bill “are ready for a vote and we urge you to schedule the vote on them in the next few weeks.”
And a separate coalition of progressive non-profits including Fight for the Future and the American Economic Liberties Project sent another letter to the Majority Leader on Friday, arguing that he should recuse himself from decisions around the vote because two of his daughters work for Meta and Amazon. News of his daughters’ jobs was first reported by The Post.
“Senator Schumer supports this bill and is working with Senator Klobuchar to get the votes,” Angelo Roefaro, a spokesman for Schumer told The Post.
Yet even if the bills make it past the Senate, their companion bills would also have to make it past the House — which some insiders say could present an even bigger hurdle.
While Schumer has said he supports both of the Klobuchar-Grassley bills, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not done so, instead saying more generally that she supports tech regulation.
Pelosi has come under scrutiny for profiting from these tech companies, as her husband Paul has made millions actively trading stocks of companies like Google.
A spokesperson for Pelosi did not respond to request for comment.