Mike Lee wants antitrust agenda to focus on 'corporate shadow state,' but not toss out all rules

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As federal lawmakers debate new antitrust policy, the Republican atop the Senate’s key antitrust panel said Tuesday he wants Congress to focus on the “corporate shadow state” but not toss out existing antitrust rules altogether.

Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, is set to be the top-ranking Republican on the antitrust panel alongside its new Democratic leader, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Earlier this month, Ms. Klobuchar proposed overhauling federal antitrust policy to lower the standards used to lessen dominant forces’ power over the marketplace and provide new funding to antitrust enforcers.

While Mr. Lee signaled an openness to working with his Democratic counterpart, he said Tuesday that any attempt to replace or undermine the consumer welfare standard would be a “non-starter.” That standard is the measure by which antitrust enforcers determine whether a business’ conduct merits scrutiny and antitrust constraints, which liberal proponents of new antitrust policies have suggested modifying.

“[S]ome of my colleagues across the aisle would seize this moment to radically alter our antitrust enforcement regime in a manner that would undermine both the economy and Congress’ legislative prerogative,” Mr. Lee said. “The consumer welfare standard — which ensures that the primary beneficiaries of the antitrust laws are the people, rather than big business — is essential to maintaining free markets. It is also essential to preventing unelected judges from advancing their private political preferences by applying the antitrust laws to non-economic harms.”

Mr. Lee said he is eager to work with Ms. Klobuchar and argued that Big Tech has divided the nation and distorted the market.

“The Silicon Valley fairytale of innovation and technological progress sold to Americans has turned into a corporatist nightmare of censorship and hypocrisy,” Mr. Lee said in a statement on Tuesday. “For over two centuries, conservatives have echoed the voices of America’s founding fathers, warning of the danger of concentrated political power. The greatest threat to liberty has always been state coercion. This remains true, but increasingly that threat is rivaled by another: the soft totalitarianism of a corporate shadow state.”

Mr. Lee said he thought the antitrust panel needed to examine a wide range of issues including coronavirus pandemic lockdowns harming competition by killing small businesses, government regulation and the Affordable Care Act distorting health care markets, and whether app stores are restricting competition from developers, among many other things.

Mr. Lee’s antitrust vision has previously rankled some on the political right. Last year, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson said he hoped Mr. Lee was primaried and forced from the Senate by a candidate who would challenge Big Tech head-on because of what Mr. Carlson perceived as Mr. Lee’s inaction.

The senator vehemently disputed Mr. Carlson’s criticisms at the time.

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