By Joseph Lord
A coalition of congressional Republicans are speaking out against President Joe Biden’s proposal for a trade agreement they say could further strengthen Big Tech monopolies.
In a letter (pdf) to relevant U.S. officials, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), joined by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) along with Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), condemned Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) as overstepping the president’s authority.
Democrats have also spoken out on the issue, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others warning in a separate letter (pdf) that if Big Tech got their way on the agreement, it could tie the hands of U.S. regulators, limiting their ability to enforce antitrust law.
The IPEF was launched by Biden in May 2022. Bearing many similarities to the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a controversial trade agreement supported by figures as diverse as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)—14 nations in the Indo-Pacific region have signed onto the IPEF economic initiative.
Unlike other trade deals, the IPEF isn’t concerned with altering tariff rates for member nations, but is considered a precursor to that goal. The Biden administration also hopes to establish a set of competition policies for member nations.
This goal, Vance and Buck wrote, not only tramples over congressional authority—it could also further strengthen Big Tech firms, who already hold a monopoly over many online tools and platforms.
“Congress, not the President, has the constitutional prerogative to craft domestic policy in the antitrust space,” the lawmakers wrote, citing ongoing legislative efforts to do just that.
Big Tech platforms have often looked to such international deals as a means to advance their own interests.
Biden has proposed “whole-of-government” policies to support competition. Democrats say that Big Tech efforts to influence the policies in the IPEF could challenge that.
In September 2022, the House of Representatives made its first foray into tackling Big Tech monopolies, passing legislation that gave more power to states in antitrust cases, and increased funding for federal antitrust regulators.
In their letter, lawmakers tied this effort to Big Tech biases.
“The largest technology firms have repeatedly exploited their dominant position in the market to censor disfavored speech and spread harmful social ideologies,” Vance and Buck said, noting that at the same time, these firms have monopolies over their fields.
“And, because a select group of dominant technology firms control the social media market and create barriers to entry for competitors, victims of Big Tech censorship and indoctrination often find that there are few viable alternatives to the incumbents.”
Now that Big Tech is losing ground on the issue in Congress, said Vance, the industry has “apparently prevailed on the administration to internationalize the issue, in derogation of Congress’s legislative authority to shape domestic competition policy.”
Building on this, lawmakers expressed their opposition to any potential efforts to push market competition rules through the IPEF.
“The administration must ensure that it does not propose or adopt text in IPEF that binds the United States to competition policies that Congress may soon reject,” they wrote.
Specifically, they warned Biden not to attempt to expand any model based off of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to other countries.
That controversial section, passed in 1996 at the dawn of the internet, gives social media platforms broad protections from liability—protections Republicans say the platforms are too biased to keep: Section 230 protects platforms from liability only if they do not act as “curators,” carefully selecting the content that appears on the site.
President Donald Trump attempted to tackle the issue but failed. Still, Section 230 remains a key GOP focus with Big Tech issues.
Closing the letter, Vance and Buck asked for clarification from key negotiators on whether the executive branch was pursuing such provisions, and seeking clarification on the effects these provisions could have on regulators’ ability to enforce the law.