Why is Congress slashing funding for antitrust enforcement that protects consumers? 

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With all eyes on the 2024 election, President Joe Biden used this year’s State of the Union speech to lay out his economic vision for America.  

In his address, Biden reaffirmed his support for pro-consumer, pro-competition policies, taking aim at corporate greed-driven inflation and price-fixing. To help turn the administration’s vision into reality, it’s vital that Congress gives federal agencies the resources they need to rein in corporate monopolists.  

Among the most important of these agencies is the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division, which under Biden has won critical victories against monopolistic actors. For this reason, Americans everywhere should be alarmed that lawmakers have quietly deprived the DOJ Antitrust Division of resources during budget negotiations. It’s critical that Congress reverse these budget cuts to give enforcers the funding they need to clamp down on corporate lawbreaking. 

As president, Biden has broken with the hands-off approach to antitrust enforcement his predecessors have taken over the last four decades. In the State of the Union, Biden highlighted the harmful real-world impact of antitrust violations by noting its impact on the rental market.  

Amid a nationwide housing crisis, corporate landlords have engaged in illegal price-fixing, a violation of federal antitrust law that has further burdened tenants’ finances. Biden asserted that his administration will aid “millions of renters” by “cracking down on big landlords who break antitrust laws by price-fixing and driving up rents.” Last year, the DOJ Antitrust Division threw its weight in support of tenants in a price-fixing lawsuit — just one example of how funding the division is necessary to fulfill Biden’s vision. 

As the Antitrust Division embarks on historic lawsuits against monopolies like Google and Apple, gutting its funding would be devastating.  

Over the past few years, the Antitrust Division has scored major victories over corporate monopolists, including a recent win against JetBlue’s attempted takeover of Spirit Airlines. The division also stopped the infamous merger attempt between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, taking aim at how the merger stood to harm workers. Under Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter, the division has worked to modernize merger guidelines to ensure that anti-competitive deals would no longer be given free rein. Though the outcome of the trial remains pending, the Antitrust Division helped shine light in court on Google’s secretive strategies to maintain its search monopoly. 

The division is also probing Live Nation Entertainment’s Ticketmaster, which became a household name following the 2022 Taylor Swift sales controversy. The collapse of Ticketmaster’s website after ticket sales went live led to the initial cancellation of the public sale for the superstar artist’s Eras Tour. The saga showed how monopolists raise prices and fail to serve their consumers in the absence of competition, and caused renewed public scrutiny on the initial merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster. In classic monopolist fashion, Ticketmaster has abused its market power to push exclusive contracts and retaliate against venues that don’t agree to its demands. 

Despite its limited resources, the DOJ Antitrust Division under Biden has proven unwavering in its fight against anti-competitive behavior. And as the Antitrust Division takes on emerging monopolistic threats, such as in artificial intelligence (AI), it stands to reason that the division deserves to have its budget increased — not slashed.  

But earlier in March, the Senate Appropriations Committee quietly moved to gut the division’s funding as part of the appropriations process, depriving the division of full access to its merger filing fees. After the news broke, it was met with a repudiation by a bipartisan coalition in Congress, who noted in a letter that the move undermined legislation implemented in 2022 to boost the division’s funding. In the letter, the members warned that the cuts would “hamper the ability of the Antitrust Division to utilize those additional funds to enhance its enforcement activities” at consumers’ expense. 

Unfortunately, the House ultimately voted to advance the cuts as part of a consolidated budget bill agreement.  

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of Capitol Hill’s strongest antitrust advocates, slammed the cuts, noting in a Senate speech that “Unbeknownst to us, they just took the money and ran” at the division’s expense. In the following days, the Biden administration signaled it would work with lawmakers to undo the funding cut, which was welcomed by pro-competition advocates. Americans everywhere should demand that Congress undo the stealth effort to undermine antitrust enforcement and give the division the funding it deserves. 

With less than eight months until Americans go to the polls, it was a wise choice for Biden to highlight the administration’s pro-competition agenda in the State of the Union. With economic concerns a top priority among voters this election season, it’s both good policy and good politics to emphasize the administration’s work to rein in corporate monopolies. Measures like the White House’s recently announced “strike force” against illegal pricing give Biden an opportunity to present voters with a positive vision for America’s economic future.  

But strong antitrust enforcement requires more than strong rhetoric: it means that antitrust agencies must have the needed resources to take monopolistic actors to task. For this reason, Congress must roll back the cuts to the Antitrust Division’s budget and give enforcers the tools they need to police anti-competitive behavior. 

Morgan Harper is the director of policy and advocacy at the American Economic Liberties Project. 

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