Vote on the big tech antitrust bill before the election

A A high-profile antitrust bill designed to curb the power of tech giants like Amazon and Google appears to have enough support to pass Congress, but likely won’t be voted on before Election Day. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell TIME they don’t expect Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring up the American Innovation and Online Choice Act, known as AICO, for a vote before the November election.

“I doubt it,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri and a co-sponsor of the legislation, when asked if there would be a vote on the measure before the midterm elections. “I hope so, but it doesn’t look like it to me.” A top Democratic Senate aide also told TIME that there is “no chance” the Senate will vote on the bill before Congress recesses on Sept. 30, at which point most lawmakers look away to the campaign.

This does not mean that a vote on the bill in the Senate before the midterm elections is impossible. Only Schumer, as majority leader, controls the Senate floor where the AICO must first pass before Speaker Nancy Pelosi allows the House to vote. But many of the bill’s fiercest defenders have essentially given up hope of being able to send the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk before Congress recesses.

“It’s going to be difficult to get it done in the next two weeks,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa and one of AICO’s lead sponsors, told TIME, referring to the short time frame when lawmakers will be mostly focused on passing an extension of resolution before October 1 to avoid a government shutdown. After that, the chances of passing a bill are minimal before the election.

If Congress doesn’t vote on the legislation by then, lawmakers could consider it during the so-called lame duck session, which takes place in November and December. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators working on a bill to protect the right to same-sex and interracial marriage announced that a vote would be repulsed until after the election, when more Republicans may be willing to support him.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota and author of Senate AICO, acknowledged in a statement to TIME the possibility of the bill being debated in the lame-duck session.

“Nonetheless, we passed a bill out of committee to take action to protect consumers and small businesses and put traffic rules in place for dominant technology platforms,” ​​Klobuchar said. “We have a strong bipartisan coalition in both the House and Senate pushing this bill, and the American people are on our side. Senator Schumer is committed to working with me for a vote, and whether this bill comes to the floor before or after the midterms, we will take action.”

The delay brings another hurdle in the ongoing saga for Congress to rein in Big Tech’s monopoly power. The AICO legislation would prohibit companies such as Amazon and Google from prioritizing their own products on their platforms over competitors. It is being held alongside a narrower companion bill, the Open App Markets Act, which would force Apple and Google to open their app stores to competing markets. Bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have already voted to send both bills to their respective chambers for a vote. That led to months of waiting for Schumer to schedule a Senate vote.

Sources tell TIME that the House won’t act on AICO until the Senate does because Pelosi doesn’t want to unnecessarily put her faction through what would be a tough vote for some of its members, especially those in California . The maneuvering has been a source of frustration for some House advocates, such as Congressman Ken Buck, R-Colorado, who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “Why not bring it up in the House?” Buck tells TIME. “Maybe Big Tech owns them. I have no idea. They point fingers at each other. This is ridiculous. They legislate when they want to. Pelosi had many difficult votes for her members. The speaker’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The main sponsors of the Senate version of the bill, Klobuchar and Grassley, say it has more than enough votes to pass the upper chamber, which has 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Grassley, for his part, says he has more than 20 Senate Republicans are ready to vote for it. Most Senate Democrats are also expected to vote for him. Still, Schumer, who says he supports the bill, would not commit to when he would bring it to the floor.

Although his office has hinted that he intends to hold a vote on the measure, his reluctance has led some advocates to suspect that he is playing into Big Tech’s strategy to run out time. In recent weeks, supporters of the bill, including privacy-focused tech companies like DuckDuckGo and Mozilla, urged Congress to vote on the bill as soon as possible.

Sources familiar with the process say Schumer delayed a vote on antitrust legislation in the spring and summer to make sure Congress could first pass bills that would be most helpful to Democrats facing tough election challenges. Indeed, Schumer surprised much of Washington last month when he passed Inflation Reduction Act to Biden’s desk. The historic bill aims to mitigate climate change, lower prescription drug costs and raise taxes on some of the wealthiest corporations. Then he helped pass the CHIPS and Science Act to subsidize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research, and the PACT Act to provide health care to military veterans exposed to toxic burns.

Now Democratic operatives say he fears putting vulnerable members in the crosshairs of Big Tech months before an election, when those companies and their wealthy leaders can pour money into helping efforts to sink their re-election bids.

Others speculate that the more than $120 million the tech giants have spent campaigning against the bill — including through ubiquitous TV and online ads arguing the bill will stifle innovation, harm consumers and threaten cybersecurity — is paying dividends.

“Pressure from Big Tech,” Hawley said when asked why he thinks Schumer won’t put AICO up for a vote. “It’s just millions of dollars wasted. Frankly, I also think the Democrats have fallen in love with the power of Big Tech. It is very useful for them. I think they kind of like it, so I think they don’t really want to get rid of it.

Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

The majority leader’s adjournment drew the ire of progressive activists who want lawmakers to prevent the tech giants from abusing their watchdog status. Over Labor Day weekend, Fight for the Future, a liberal advocacy group, chartered a plane to fly a message over New York beaches that reads, “Schumer: Help New York workers, not big tech!” The same group has been running a John Oliver segment for months in support of the big-screen replay bill outside the home of Schumer in Brooklyn.

Some lawmakers are skeptical that the bill has the necessary votes to pass, suggesting that’s the real reason Schumer didn’t call for a vote. “I don’t think there’s going to be a vote unless the authors are absolutely sure they have 60 votes,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, told TIME. “This is pretty standard protocol for Senator Schumer. He tells people, “You have to prove you have the votes before I commit to burning my time.”

Even earlier this summer, The authors of AICO said they have just that. “I think it’s very clear that we have the votes to pass these bills in the House and in the Senate,” Congressman David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island and author of the House version, told TIME. “Grassley and Klobuchar have the votes,” a lobbyist pushing the legislation told TIME. “Sen. Grassley said he had more than 20 Republican votes. He makes no mistake in the number of the whip.

But whether the votes are there or not, some of the bill’s supporters are becoming less optimistic that the bill will become law than they were earlier in the summer. While AICO is certainly not dead, those who want Congress to crack down on Big Tech are growing more nervous by the day.

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