Posted: Jul 26, 2022 12:01 AM
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There’s no shortage of pressing issues facing Americans on a day-to-day basis right now. However, if Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) gets her way, rather than address inflation, gun control, baby formula shortages, abortion, Ukranian assistance, government funding, data privacy, or any number of other issues, Congress would waste valuable floor time to vote on legislation to break consumer-friendly services and ban the sale of low-cost alternatives.
Democrats have been criticized for being out of touch with voters, especially on gas prices. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) recently quipped in a hearing that the high price of gas didn’t faze her since she drove an electric vehicle and was able to drive past every gas station. The average sale price of an electric vehicle is roughly $60,000, a sum of money most Americans don’t have sitting around.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. President Biden’s chief of staff previously brushed off inflation concerns as a “high class” problem. Addressing the AFL-CIO, President Biden himself dismissed criticism that out of control spending was contributing to inflation, stating, “I don’t want to hear anymore of these lies about reckless spending! We’re changing people’s lives!” While Americans who have seen their cost of living increase wiped out by inflation or are paying over $100 to fill up their gas tank might agree their lives have been changed, it may not necessarily be for the better.
Unsurprisingly, these are the issues Americans urgently want Congress to address. A recent pollfound that inflation, gas prices, and the economy are the top issues for voters, with 83 percent saying the economy is extremely or very important in determining how they will vote. Despite the clear call for help from American families, Senator Klobuchar and a few lawmakers are pushing for a floor vote on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA).
AICOA would empower the federal government to go after a few companies in the tech sector by radically overhauling existing antitrust laws. Ironically, the digital economy is one sector of the economy that has been most resistant to inflationary pressures. Passage of this legislation risks harming an already delicate economy and piling onto the woes Americans are facing.
Shackling tech companies with more regulations is also not what Americans want, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. However, Senator Klobuchar is determined to get a vote on her pet project, so it is important to discuss the implications of the legislation since it never received a hearing. One of the biggest issues with AICOA (and there are numerous) is its ambiguity.
For example, there isn’t even agreement between the cosponsors on how this bill would be enforced. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a co-sponsor of AICOA, stated during the committee markup he supported the bill because it would help address content moderation concerns by restricting a platform’s ability to remove a business user (for example, preventing Apple from removing Parler from the app store). However, in a press conference about the bill, Sen. Klobuchar stated, “this bill is about competition. It’s not focused on content.” Meanwhile, four Senate Democrats sent a letter to Sen. Klobuchar asking that she change the language to clarify the bill would not restrict a platform’s ability to moderate content.
The bill also does not define key terms, and instead would allow the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to pick winners and losers. As Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) noted, the FTC would be empowered to decide which activities are harmful and which are not. This “choose your own adventure” for antitrust enforcers at a time when economic concerns abound should worry lawmakers and consumers.
As Americans face sky-high inflation, cutting back on spending can be the only option for some. Increasingly, that means buying cheaper generic brand products instead of more expensive name brands, like buying Costco’s Kirkland brand everyday items instead of more expensive name brands. However, AICOA takes direct aim at this common business practice by preventing Amazon and other companies from competing with name brand products on their platforms. Cash-strapped families would lose access to low-cost alternatives online and name brands would face fewer competitive pressures to lower prices.
There is no scarcity of problems for Congress to address. Bolstering American energy production, reining in out of control government spending, and reforming trade policies to ease supply chain issues would all be more in line with the pocketbook issues American families are dealing with. Wasting time on AICOA would be hugely out of touch and risks making the current economic situation worse.
Will Yepez is a policy and government affairs manager with the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for sound tax and regulatory policy at all levels of government.