The Senate antitrust bill has bipartisan support — so why no vote?

Putting a vote on the record before an election is a no-win in Washington.

US capitol building

Kyle Plotkin argues that if Sen. Chuck Schumer continues to delay votes on antitrust bills, he is on Big Tech's side.

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

Kyle Plotkin is a partner at OnMessage Public Strategies and a former chief of staff to Sen. Josh Hawley and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

We are in the midst of fighting season in Washington. It’s an election year, and that means senators are telling voters — over and over — how tough they are and how much they fight on the voters’ behalf.

But here’s the dirty little secret: Senators hate what they believe to be tough votes. Especially when members are worried their vote will put them on the side of powerful special interests and against their constituents’ best interest. They avoid those votes at all costs. That’s why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is holding up a Senate floor vote on legislation to rein in monopoly power in the tech industry.

Earlier this year, two major antitrust bills — the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act — passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The first bill would prevent Big Tech firms from self-preferencing their own products to damage their rivals. The second would end Apple and Google’s tight grips on their mobile app stores, giving small developers and startups a fighting chance to innovate and deliver their products to consumers.

The bills won strong bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary committee (votes of 16-6 and 20-2 respectively). Yet Schumer is still showing no signs of holding a floor vote on either piece of legislation in the near future. And the window to hold a vote before a long August recess is about to close.

The longer he delays a vote, the more time Big Tech allies have to lobby senators and spend tens of millions in advertising to scare voters. According to a recent Washington Post story, Big Tech advocacy groups have collectively spent $72 million on advertising to help defeat the antitrust measures. Notably, much of the advertising is happening in Senate battleground states, such as Georgia, Arizona and New Hampshire, where incumbent Democratic senators are facing tough reelection fights.

The ads deceptively argue that the antitrust measures could impact popular consumer services such as Amazon Prime, Google Maps and Google search. Big Tech is making a bet that vulnerable Democrats will be too scared to change the status quo. And that bet is currently paying off because Schumer isn’t calling for a vote.

However, voters in these states aren’t buying the arguments from Big Tech. My firm recently partnered with a Democratic polling firm, Lake Research Partners, to conduct a survey in 2022 Senate battleground states about the attitudes of likely voters toward Big Tech, and specifically the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act.

Importantly, the poll was conducted in the midst of Big Tech’s ad blitz, and yet Senate battleground voters continue to support the passage of these pieces of legislation by large bipartisan majorities. 72% of likely voters in our poll support the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, and 79% of likely voters support the Open App Markets Act.

If Schumer continues to delay votes on these bills, it’s clear he is picking the side of Big Tech monopolies over the desire of voters — and hurting his own members who are up for reelection. Senate Republican challengers know it. They are prepared to take on the tech titans if they take control of Congress, and if Schumer fails to hold a vote, Republican candidates will be sure to highlight Democrats’ inaction in the final legs of their campaigns.

The clock is ticking. Every news cycle brings another revelation about the dangers of Big Tech, and with it, a new opportunity for Republicans to attack their challengers. Do Democrats really want to be attacked as the party of Big Tech?

If Schumer wants these bills to pass, he can bring them to the floor and pass them. If he wants to give his party a sliver of hope this November, he will bring the bills to the floor for a vote. This isn’t Build Back Better — it’s a bipartisan concept that brings Republicans and Democrats together. It’s a simple choice.

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