Biden Antitrust Nominee Vows Enforcement to Benefit Workers
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division told lawmakers he would ensure that competition enforcement protects workers, echoing the administration’s concern that dominant companies are suppressing wages.
Jonathan Kanter told senators at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that if he’s confirmed he would implement a “vigorous and comprehensive antitrust program that protects workers from anticompetitive abuses.”
“Dominant companies have the ability to exploit their monopoly power to the detriment of Americans in so many different ways,” he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The critical mission of the antitrust laws is to protect competition for people in the workplace to ensure that thriving competitive markets leads to adequate compensation.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Kanter, 48, would take over the antitrust division as it prosecutes a landmark monopoly case against Alphabet Inc.’s Google that was filed at the end of the Trump administration. The lawsuit accuses the company of abusing its power over internet search through anticompetitive deals with Apple Inc. and other companies.
Antitrust enforcement has been focused traditionally on prices charged to consumers and businesses and not wages paid to workers. But Biden is pushing for greater emphasis on the labor market, pointing to evidence that consolidation is decreasing wages and complaining that non-compete agreements affecting tens of millions of workers are making it harder to switch jobs.
Kanter, who left one of the biggest U.S. law firms last year to start his own firm, is a long-time foe of Google, representing companies that have pushed antitrust enforcers to take action against the search giant.
Biden’s nomination of Kanter was cheered by advocates for a more forceful antitrust agenda who say lax policing of mergers and anticompetitive conduct has left industries across the economy controlled by dominant companies that are stifling competition and hurting consumers and workers in the process.
Biden has made antitrust enforcement a key feature of his economic agenda. In July, he signed an executive order calling on government agencies to use their regulatory powers to foster more competition in markets they oversee, saying that unchecked consolidation is holding back economic growth.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota called on fellow senators to support Kanter’s nomination, saying the U.S. needs leadership to take on “some of the most powerful companies the world has ever seen.”
Klobuchar said antitrust enforcers need “to do more to protect the competition, stop the runaway consolidation of our markets and crack down” on what she called “today’s robber barons.”
Republicans on the committee were gentler in their questioning than they have been for some other Biden nominees for Justice Department positions, and Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he would vote to confirm Kanter.
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s top Republican, pressed Kanter on what actions he would take to combat concentration in agricultural markets. Grassley said anticompetitive conduct is hurting farmers and consumers. Kanter responded that vigorous antitrust enforcement in agriculture is “absolutely essential.”
Kanter, who also previously worked as an antitrust lawyer at the FTC, left Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP last year to found Kanter Law Group. He was a longtime lawyer for Microsoft Corp. and represented Yelp Inc., News Corp. and Spotify Technology SA among other companies, according to his financial disclosure filing.
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