WASHINGTON (Reuters) — President Joe Biden on Friday signed a sweeping executive order to promote more competition in the U.S. economy, urging agencies to crack down on anticompetitive practices in sectors ranging from agriculture to drugs and labor.
If fully implemented, this effort will help reduce Internet costs for Americans, allow reimbursement of airline baggage fees for delayed baggage, among other measures.
The order directs antitrust agencies to focus on labor, health care, technology and agriculture as they address a long list of issues that have irked consumers and, in the case of drug prices, put some of them out of business.
“More tolerance for the abusive actions of monopolies. No more bad mergers that result in mass layoffs, higher prices, and fewer options for workers and consumers,” Biden said at a signing ceremony at the White House.
The president noted areas where advocates believe prices are too high, wages are cut, or new businesses are shut out of competition. “Let me be very clear, capitalism without competition is not capitalism, it is exploitation,” he said.
The White House says the rate of new business creation has fallen nearly 50% since the 1970s, as big companies make it harder for Americans with good ideas to break into markets.
Biden’s action tackles corporate monopolies across a wide range of industries and includes 72 initiatives he wants more than a dozen federal agencies to act on.
Declining wages caused by lack of competition are estimated to cost the median U.S. household $5,000 a year, according to a White House fact sheet that cites research from the American Economic Liberties Project — an anti- influential Washington-based monopoly.
The initiatives will undoubtedly trigger a series of fights with the industries involved.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a statement saying the move “appears like a ‘government knows best’ approach to managing the economy” and pledged to “vigorously oppose calls for government-set prices, onerous and legally questionable regulations, efforts to treat innovative industries as public utilities, and the politicization of antitrust enforcement.”
Internet, hearing aids
Among the administration’s plans to open up the U.S. economy are new rules to end excessive termination fees for internet contracts, allow the sale of hearing aids without a prescription, and end non-compete clauses. for millions of workers and numerous professional licensing requirements.
Biden’s order pushes the Agriculture Department to act to end what the White House has called “abusive practices by some meat processors,” reacting to farmers and ranchers who sometimes say they face too few buyers for their animals.
The administration is also seeking to make it easier for customers to switch banks and take their transaction data with them, and to restore net neutrality rules that require companies to treat all internet services the same.
Reuters first reported Biden’s plan to issue a competition executive order in late June and later published stories about its impact on sectors including farm equipment makers, banking, rail and shipping.
The executive order directs the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to carefully review mergers and challenge prior agreements that have been reached.
It orders the FTC to issue rules to address competition concerns from big tech companies Facebook, Apple, Google and Alphabet’s Amazon, and to limit ‘kill acquisitions’ when major internet platforms acquire competitors potentials.
FTC Chair Lina Khan and Acting Chief of the US Justice Department’s Antitrust Division Richard Powers said on Friday they would soon launch a review of the merger guidelines to determine whether they are “too permissive”.
On prescription drugs, it aims to lower prices for consumers by allowing the importation of drugs from Canada, where they are cheaper. It also urges the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to address high drug prices and abuse.
Evercore/ISI analyst Michael Newshel said in a research note that the impact of allowing imports from Canada on prices would be limited given the limited drug supply in Canada and that the Canada has indicated in the past that it will not cooperate with any program. He said the government’s move to turn to executive orders on drug pricing was surprising given ongoing legislative efforts in Congress.
The executive order also establishes a White House Competition Council, headed by the director of the National Economic Council and including numerous cabinet secretaries, to monitor progress.