By Nathalie Voit

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-6 to advance a major tech antitrust bill, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, during a markup session on Jan. 21.

The bill passed on a bipartisan basis, with ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and antitrust subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) voting to move the legislation past the committee stage to potentially be adopted by the Senate.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and John Kennedy (R-La) joined the Democrats as co-sponsors.

“This bipartisan bill addresses the tactics that dominant tech platforms have used to limit choice by consumers and exclude competitors,” said Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) in his opening statement.

The floor was then turned over to lead sponsor Sen. Klobuchar, who argued vehemently in favor of the legislation.

“What laws has the Senate passed to curb monopoly in [Big Tech]?” Klobuchar asked before the committee.

“Not one – we haven’t meaningfully updated our antitrust laws since the birth of the internet. In fact, despite broad bipartisan support, we haven’t passed anything,” she said, pointing to the enormous lobbying power exercised by Big Tech.

“In 2021, Amazon and Facebook were both in the top three of federal lobbying expenditures in the nation. In 2020 they each spent more than any other company in America.”

Klobuchar then proposed several provisions as part of a “manager’s amendment,” including but not limited to: privacy and security provisions, changes to ensure powerful platforms won’t escape the bill’s coverage merely because they are not publicly traded; a one-year period for covered platforms to abide by the new rules; the exclusion of subscription services like Amazon Prime from the bill; and a mandate to issue robust agency enforcement guidelines within nine months of enactment to provide clarity to the business community, alongside other revisions.

“We all have an interest in promoting a strong, competitive, innovative, digital economy in this country. This bill is a balanced, bipartisan proposal to help achieve this goal. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the legislation as revised under the manager’s amendment and vote it out of this committee,” she said.

The manager’s amendment was then proposed before the committee, where it passed with overwhelming approval. Other amendments to the bill then went up for debate.

According to Chair Durbin, 107 amendments to the bill were filed, including 82 by one senator. However, only a handful of the amendments were debated due to time restrictions, with ultimately only one of the amendments introduced being adopted: Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) amendment regarding data transfers to the People’s Republic of China.

The bill passed with broad bipartisan support, despite some senators expressing reservations about the short nature of the markup session, particularly Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

However, Klobuchar promised to address lawmakers’ lingering concerns as the bill moved towards full approval by the Senate.

Click here to access the committee hearing.