The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will lurch toward the left now that Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote for Alvaro Bedoya’s confirmation to serve as the fifth Commissioner at the FTC. Bedoya’s confirmation had been in limbo with unified opposition from Republicans due in part to his past partisan statements. Senate Republicans also appear wary of empowering an already heavily politicized FTC — and for good reason.
After the bait-and-switch confirmation of Lina Khan to head the FTC, the agency has pursued an aggressive progressive agenda. The agency sent threatening letters to companies warning them to merge at their own risk and has stated its intention in the 2022-2026 draft strategic plan to engage in social policy priorities. The current regime at the FTC has sought to undermine the consumer welfare standard and instead substitute its own judgment on what is best for consumers.
There has also been a startling lack of transparency from the FTC. Open meetings have been conducted where the Commissioners vote on items before even hearing from the public. Lina Khan ordered all staffers to cancel their public events almost immediately after assuming the role of Chair. On his final day as an FTC Commissioner, Rohit Chopra cast more than 20 “zombie votes” that have been used after he departed the agency. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) along with seven of his colleagues introduced legislation that would prevent this opaque practice, and Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) sent a letter to the FTC last year urging the agency to make major changes.
While some Republicans have urged the FTC to rein in Big Tech, conservatives should strongly oppose such efforts. Despite some shared concerns about some of Big Tech’s business practices, although for different and contradictory reasons, an empowered FTC is extremely unlikely to pursue policies that would benefit conservatives in any manner.
An aggressive FTC won’t just go after Big Tech, it will go after any company or industry deemed too large or consolidated by politicians and political appointees. Indeed, in announcing he would fill the vacancy at the FTC, Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said it was so the agency could investigate Big Oil for their “price gouging.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) echoed this call saying lawmakers need to empower the FTC to investigate and prosecute price gouging of large companies. In response to high inflation and rising gasoline prices, the Biden administration and some Democrats have sought to shift the blame to the private sector.
The warnings about what’s happening at the FTC are also coming from the agency itself. Former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm and Republican FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson recently penned an op-ed warning of the progressive push to overhaul existing antitrust laws and allow the government to pick winners and losers. Whether it’s Lina Khan’s willingness to shred the decades-long consensus on antitrust enforcement, FTC Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter’s view that antitrust should be “antiracist,” or Democrats’ attempt to use antitrust to achieve progressive labor goals, the unwillingness of Senate Republicans to confirm Bedoya is not unexpected, nor is it unwarranted.
Now that the FTC will have a Democratic majority, careful oversight of the agency from lawmakers is going to be more critical than ever – especially if Democrats lose control of Congress and instead rely on bureaucrats to move their agenda forward. Consumers and taxpayers are already under immense pressure, and it’s imperative that the federal government does not worsen their situation through heavy-handed, anti-growth policies.