Washington’s largest business lobby group has slammed the Biden administration over its competition policy, signaling that it will fight the “government overthrow” that it says threatens US economic recovery.
“The Federal Trade Commission has taken such an aggressive stance against mergers and acquisitions that small and medium-sized businesses fear that they have been working for years to build something and will have no exit strategy if they choose to sell,” says Suzanne Clark, in her first annual address as CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Clark attacked “contemporary trustbusters” from both parties, but singled out the FTC, which is chaired by Lina Khan, for trying to increase its powers.
Khan took over the commission with the mandate to rewrite the way American competition rules are applied. She already has turned over several FTC policy statements that made it more difficult for the regulator to reverse takeovers and now rewrite the guidance used by companies to decide whether a merger is legal.
These efforts have provoked more and more outspoken criticism from the business community. Last November, the Chamber threatened to sue the FTC after the commission wrote to hundreds of business owners warning them against the use of false advertisements and misleading endorsements.
The lobby group said it would take legal action if that warning was followed up with enforcement action. “If bureaucrats and elected officials do not stop standing in the way, we will stop them, because what is at stake is nothing less than the future of our free market economy,” Clark said on Tuesday.
The House also expressed anger that Rohit Chopra, a former Democratic FTC commissioner, had cast several votes even after announcing he had left the commission to head the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.
And it accused US President Joe Biden of interfering with the commission’s impartiality when he signed a recent executive order regulators are instructed to combat monopoly power in various sectors. That order was “based on the false premise that our entire economy is over-concentrated and stagnant,” Clark said.
Sean Heather, the Chamber’s senior vice president of international regulatory affairs and antitrust, told the Financial Times last month that the FTC had worked unfairly with regulators in Europe to break down potential transactions. He said regulators in the US, EU and UK use a “divide and rule” strategy to prosecute cases outside their own jurisdictions.
Tuesday’s speech highlighted the growing friction between the business community and the Biden administration, whose early pandemic response and moves around a bipartisan infrastructure spending bill largely received the House’s support.
One source of tension was the administration’s social spending bill, known as Build Back Better, which would be funded in part by higher corporate taxes. Clark branded the legislation as “a proposed biased tax and spending spree to fund a massive expansion of the federal government”.
Corporate America is similarly concerned about what they see as a failure to enter into new trade agreements. The Biden administration has been “consumed by caution and internal review”, while Europe has “progressed” with its trade agreements and China has continued to become a more formidable commercial and strategic competitor, Clark said.
The speech does not contain any condemnation of Republican members of Congress whose continued support of false claims that the 2020 election is against Donald Trump has alienated many business leaders.
Clark, however, called on business leaders to defend those elected officials who follow ‘common ground’ policies. “We have to be as hard as the extremists. . . far left and far right, ”she argued.
American citizens also had to unite behind “our democracy that supports our American enterprise system”, she said. “The USA has enough enemies. Let’s stop being our own biggest enemy. ”