Biden administration weighs executive order restraining big companies

US President Joe Biden
The Biden administration is developing an executive order directing agencies to strengthen oversight of industries that they perceive to be dominated by a small number of companies, a wide-ranging attempt to rein in big business power across the economy, people familiar with the plans told The Wall Street Journal.

According to the news report, the order, which US President Biden could sign as soon as next week, would direct regulators of industries from airlines to agriculture to rethink their rule-making process to inject more competition and to give consumers, workers and suppliers more rights to challenge large producers.

The order goes after corporate monopolies across a broad swath of industries ranging from banking to airlines, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The goal is to broaden the way policy makers approach business concentration in the US, going beyond conventional antitrust enforcement focused on blocking big mergers.

White House spokesperson Emilie Simons did not comment on specific details, but said the president made clear during his campaign that he is committed to increasing competition in the American economy, including by banning non-compete agreements for workers and protecting farmers from abusive practices. “There is no final decision on any actions at this time," she told Reuters.

Businesses and conservative legal groups could challenge the rules in court, as they already have with administration moves to limit oil and gas drilling on federal lands and to extend a pandemic-related moratorium on evicting renters.  

Regulatory opponents are hopeful that conservative judges appointed by former President Donald Trump will make it easier to challenge Biden administration rules, according to WSJ.

Former president Barack Obama's administration issued a similar order in 2016 that pushed executive branch agencies to promote competition but it failed to move the needle. The Biden order includes details on how specific government agencies should review deals and competition in industries, one of the sources said.

The White House has recently appointed advocates of antitrust reform to key positions. Earlier this month, Biden named Lina Khan, a prominent critic of Big Tech, as chair of the Federal Trade Commission.

This followed the appointment of Tim Wu, an outspoken critic of Google, Facebook and Amazon, as special assistant to the president on competition policy.

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