Battling bigness: Congress eyes action against monopolies

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration joint hearing Wednesday, March 3, 2021, examining the January 6, attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration joint hearing Wednesday, March 3, 2021, examining the January 6, attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP) (The Hill)

WASHINGTON – The battle against bigness is building. Whether it’s beer, banks or book publishing, lawmakers are targeting major industries they say have become so concentrated that they’re hurting competition, consumers and the economy.

The economic dislocation of the pandemic has laid bare the struggles of small businesses unable to compete with corporate giants that have been able to capitalize on the new order. Experts and lawmakers are throwing out stunning stats:

The four biggest airlines control about 65% of U.S. passenger traffic, five giant healthcare insurers control an estimated 45% of the market, pharmaceuticals are dominated by three major companies, the top four banks control about 44% of the market, the so-called Big Five book publishers control some 80% of the U.S. book market, and Google alone accounts for about 90% of web searches worldwide.

Beer and a burger? Four companies are estimated to control 80% of U.S. meat-packing; the top four brewers and importers control about 76% of the U.S. beer market.

Congress, federal regulators and states had already been putting Big Tech companies under intense scrutiny for nearly two years and even suing some for antitrust. Now with Democrats in the majority in Congress and President Joe Biden seemingly prepared to act on an anti-monopoly agenda, the focus is widening to the rest of corporate America.

Critics say the corporate concentration is quickening, limiting consumers’ choices, raising prices and eroding service.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has put forward expansive legislation to overhaul antitrust law. It would make it harder for dominant companies to win regulators’ approval of mergers and stretch the government’s authority over competition in other ways. Klobuchar, who heads the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on competition policy, has launched a broad examination by the panel of monopoly concerns.

“At stake is nothing less than the future of our economy and the way of life that it supports,” Klobuchar said at the panel’s first hearing last week. “This is about saving capitalism and building an economy that works for all Americans.”