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Tech Group Warns Biden That Antitrust Bills Carry Political Risk

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(Bloomberg) -- A tech-backed group is warning the White House that supporting an antitrust bill designed to curb the power of internet giants isn’t politically popular and could hurt Democrats ahead of November’s midterm elections.

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The Chamber of Progress, which counts Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google among its members, on Tuesday shared its own polling figures with White House officials showing that voters in key states don’t prioritize technology regulation.

The outreach is part of a lobbying blitz to dampen support for bipartisan antitrust proposals aimed at these four companies, especially a bill from Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley that’s slated to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. While lawmakers have been pushing President Joe Biden to publicly endorse the bill, the companies maintain that offering explicit support would come at a political cost.

It’s an argument intended to counter the administration’s need for accomplishments Biden can mention in his March State of the Union speech and that Democrats can take to voters in November. With the party’s ambitious social-spending plan stalled and a voting-rights bill mired in quibbles over Senate procedure, tech lobbyists are worried that a bipartisan bill targeting their companies could tempt a president who values working across the aisle.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also came out against the bill Wednesday. Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley said it “will raise prices, reduce choices for American families, limit opportunities for small businesses, and harm our economy.”

Read More: White House Weighs Support for Klobuchar’s Tech Antitrust Bill

The White House plans to host a meeting this week of tech critics and smaller competitors, according to people familiar with the initiative. While some members of the administration are pushing for measures to beef up antitrust regulation of the digital economy, the White House is also listening to arguments against the bill, one of the officials said, including the companies’ claim that certain provisions would hurt user privacy, advantage foreign competitors and damage popular products.

White House support is a crucial part of getting this bill passed, since Democrats will have to carefully choose which policies to pursue in the last months before midterm campaigning ramps up this year. The Klobuchar-Grassley measure, which would prohibit Apple, Amazon, Meta and Google from giving priority to their own products on their platforms, has an impressive array of bipartisan cosponsors and a House companion bill. Still, it hasn’t gotten much attention from the congressional leaders that set the floor schedule in the Democratic-led House and Senate.

The lobbying effort against the bill has escalated this week ahead of Thursday’s planned committee hearing. Apple’s head of government affairs Timothy Powderly on Tuesday sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee leaders and Google’s Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker wrote a blog post detailing their interpretation of how the legislation would affect their companies’ services.

Read More: Apple, Google Tell Senate That Tech Bills Will Harm Privacy

Lawmakers led by Klobuchar have pushed back against these claims, arguing that companies worth trillions of dollars can find a way to comply with new rules and still protect user privacy and consumer interests.

“As we have seen time after time, big tech companies are telling misleading claims about the impact of our legislation to protect businesses and consumers across the digital marketplace,” a Klobuchar spokesperson said Tuesday.

The Chamber of Progress, led by former Google lobbyist Adam Kovacevich, is one of many pro-tech and business groups opposing the bill. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance this week took out a digital ad buy targeting 17 U.S. senators.

A coalition of smaller digital companies and technologists wrote to Senate Judiciary leaders this week in support of the Klobuchar-Grassley bill, which they said would help address the abuses of “gatekeeper” companies.

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