Senate Democrat Warns on ‘Too Big to Fix’ Mergers

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By Alexei Alexis

U.S. antitrust regulators should remain on guard against consolidation across industries that threaten competition and consumers, a top Democrat in antitrust said Nov. 7, citing Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc.’s failed merger as an example.

Mega-deals like Sprint and T-Mobile are likely to cause more problems than they solve, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said at an event hosted by the competition advocacy group American Antitrust Institute. She is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee.

“All of this suggests that now more than ever, we need vigorous antitrust enforcement,” she said. “We often talk about firms and banks being too big to fail. A question for modern antitrust enforcement across the board is whether some mergers are simply too big to fix.”

Hearing Planned

The question is also of interest to the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). The subcommittee is planning a hearing on the question of whether “big is always bad” in antitrust law, a Lee aide told Bloomberg Law. The panel is aiming for the hearing on Nov. 15, but a witness list hasn’t yet been determined, the aide said.

Lee and Klobuchar have a history of collaborating on antitrust efforts. They joined forces in posing questions to regulators about AT&T Inc.'s proposed merger with Time Warner Inc., which is still pending before the Justice Department.

It’s unclear how much they agree on other antitrust questions about consolidation. Lee hasn’t said anything about Sprint and T-Mobile, for example. But Klobuchar in October joined other Democrats in urging the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission to start looking into the deal even though it hadn’t been finalized. The transaction, which broke down over disagreements about valuation, would have combined the No. 3 and No. 4 cell-phone providers.

Klobuchar has been increasingly vocal and aggressive on antitrust issues, reflecting a shift within her party. She has introduced proposals to beef up antitrust enforcement, including a bill (S. 1812) to require companies to prove their mega-deals are good for competition before they can get government approval. The legislation so far has no Republican co-sponsors.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexei Alexis in Washington at aalexis@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bna.com

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