More competition: Biden signs order targeting big business

By AAMER MADHANI and MARCY GORDON
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Friday targeting what he labeled anticompetitive practices in tech, health care and other parts of the economy, declaring it would fortify an American ideal “that true capitalism depends on fair and open competition.”

The sweeping order includes 72 actions and recommendations that Biden said would lower prices for families, increase wages for workers and promote innovation and faster economic growth. However, new regulations that agencies may write to translate his policy into rules could trigger major legal battles.

The order includes calls for banning or limiting noncompete agreements to help boost wages, allowing rule changes that would pave the way for hearing aids to be sold over the counter at drugstores and banning excessive early termination fees by internet companies. It also calls on the Transportation Department to consider issuing rules requiring airlines to refund fees when baggage is delayed or in-flight services are not provided as advertised.

At a White House signing ceremony, Biden said of some in big business: “Rather than competing for consumers they are consuming their competitors; rather than competing for workers they are finding ways to gain the upper hand on labor.”

“Let me be clear: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation,” he said.

The White House said Biden’s order follows in the tradition of past presidents who took action to slow corporate power. Theodore Roosevelt’s administration broke up powerful trusts that had a grip on huge swaths of the economy, including Standard Oil and J.P. Morgan’s railroads. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration stepped up antitrust enforcement in the 1930s.

But experts noted that Biden’s sprawling presidential initiative is hardly a mandate on competition.

“This is really more of a blueprint or agenda than a traditional executive order,” said Daniel Crane, a law professor at the University of Michigan who focuses on antitrust. “This is a very broad and ambitious policy agenda for the Biden administration that offers lots of insights on the administration’s direction and priorities, but there could be many a slip between the cup and the lip.”

Biden’s order includes a flurry of consumer-pointed initiatives that could potentially lead to new federal regulations, but it also includes plenty of aspirational language that simply encourages agencies to take action meant to bolster worker and consumer protections.

Business and trade groups quickly expressed opposition, arguing that the order would stifle economic growth just as the U.S. economy is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some of the actions announced today are solutions in search of a problem,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. “They threaten to undo our progress by undermining free markets and are premised on the false notion that our workers are not positioned for success.”

The order seeks to address noncompete clauses — an issue affecting some 36 million to 60 million Americans, according to the White House — by encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to ban or limit such agreements, ban unnecessary occupational licensing restrictions and strengthen antitrust guidance to prevent employers from collaborating to suppress wages or reduce benefits by sharing wage and benefit information with one another.

Noncompete agreements often stop workers in a variety of industries from going to other employers for higher pay. Biden noted that in some states even fast food franchises include such clauses for low-wage workers.

“Come on, are there trade secrets about what’s inside the patty?” Biden said.

The order also takes aim at tech giants Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon by calling for greater scrutiny of mergers, “especially by dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.”

In his executive order, Biden also calls on the Federal Maritime Commission to take action against shippers that it says are “charging American exporters exorbitant charges” and the Surface Transportation Board to require railroad track owners to “strengthen their obligations to treat other freight companies fairly.”

The White House argues that rapid consolidation and sharp hikes in pricing in the shipping industry have made it increasingly expensive for U.S. companies to get goods to market. In 2000, the largest 10 shipping companies controlled 12% of the market. They now control about 82%, according to the Journal of Commerce.

The World Shipping Council, an industry trade group, pushed back in a statement that “normalized demand, not regulation,” is the way to answer rising costs.

“There is no market concentration ‘problem’ to ‘fix,’ and punitive measures levied against carriers based on incorrect economic assumptions will not fix the congestion problems,” said John Butler, president and CEO of the council.

The order also notes that over the past two decades the U.S. has lost 70% of the banks it once had, with around 10,000 bank closures. Communities of color and rural areas have been disproportionately affected.

To begin addressing the trend, the order encourages the Justice Department as well as the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to update guidelines to provide greater scrutiny of mergers. It also encourages the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue rules allowing customers to download their banking data and take it with them when they switch.

The order includes several provisions that could affect the agricultural industry. It calls on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider issuing new rules defining when meat can use “Product of USA” labels. It also encourages the FTC to limit farm equipment manufacturers’ ability to restrict the use of independent repair shops or do-it-yourself repairs — such as when tractor companies block farmers from repairing their own tractors.

Democratic lawmakers and union leaders cheered the order.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, said that Biden’s executive order needs to be buttressed by congressional action.

“Competition policy needs new energy and approaches so that we can address America’s monopoly problem,” Klobuchar said. “That means legislation to update our antitrust laws, but it also means reimagining what the federal government can do to promote competition under our current laws.”

McNeese Sports

Schroyer named to national committees

Local News

17 state AGs sue Biden administration for allowing foreign farmworkers to unionize

Local News

Rounds of storms possible as tropical disturbance expected to move into Gulf

Local News

La. Supreme Court reverses ‘lookback window’ decision

life

Alligator Park closed due to high water

Business

Preserving the past: Ryan Street historic district could become reality

life

Juneteenth Freedom Festival: Family fun, fireworks, food and more in lineup for area’s 4-day celebration

Local News

Jennings City Council considering whether to increase salaries for mayor, council members

Local News

Contentious Iowa Council meeting ends with abrupt adjournment

life

Feel the Wheels at the Moss Bluff Library

Local News

NBA great Jerry West dies at 86

Jim Beam

Jim Beam column:Pet projects have long lives

Crime

Local man pleads guilty to 10 counts of carnal knowledge of a juvenile

Local News

Student-run coffee company opens after a ‘latte’ collaboration

life

PHOTO GALLERY: Coushatta Pow Wow

Local News

I-10 bridge eastbound lane closed for emergency repairs

Crime

Attorney general: Speed enforcement cameras in Oberlin OK

Crime

BREAKING: Hunter Biden convicted on all 3 felony counts

Local News

Homeward-bound athletes: Return to resume college careers with fresh start

Local News

UN Security Council adopts motion urging Hamas to accept Israeli hostage-truce offer

Local News

Unrestrained driver killed in crash with semi-truck

Crime

Prosecutor says ‘no one is above the law’ as he urges jurors to convict Hunter Biden in gun case

Local News

Credit card delinquencies are rising. Here’s what to do if you’re at risk

Local News

Texas county removed 17 books from its libraries. An appeals court says eight must be returned.