An unlikely coalition of senators is backing a bill by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to drastically overhaul the nation’s antitrust laws. They may want to give her proposal another read, because there are things about it that might not be what they seem.
Klobuchar wants to be president and is counting on this legislation, Senate Bill 2992, the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act,” to establish the progressive bona fides she needs to leap to the front of the pack running for president the next time the Democratic presidential nomination is up for grabs.
If she expects her effort to excite the people whose spines once tingled at the thought of President Bernie Sanders, she’s off base.
The Republicans who signed onto her bill generally did so in the belief it gives the government the power to ensure “Big Tech” plays fair with conservatives. It doesn’t, and letting federal bureaucrats determine what to censor online would be worse.
The legislation would also make life more difficult for social media companies the Democrats have allied with in pursuit of election victories. The framework her legislation would erect would take a big bite out of the hand that feeds her.
The impact on Big Tech isn’t the only reason politicians should be concerned. Those issues are largely political. The way some businesses are treated is not — and has given rise to complaints favorable treatment is being extended to some kinds of firms because of what it doesn’t address.
What kind of crony capitalism may we be seeing? The Klobuchar bill overlooks — because it’s not included in the list of discriminatory conduct by “covered platform” — the use of pharmacy benefit managers, also known as PBMs, that negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers and health insurers to set the price of prescription drugs.
Proponents say these companies produce lower prices for consumers. Critics say the opposite, arguing they are too open to inducements from manufacturers to set prices higher than they need be in exchange for some kind of remuneration.
Their involvement in the health-care system is, for the moment, a political hot potato second only perhaps to continuing quest by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to impose a regulatory scheme to impose price controls on drugs.
According to Health Industries Research Companies, CVS has the biggest share at 34% of total 2021 adjusted claims. Express Scripts is second at 25% and OptumRx has 21%.
Now 80% control doesn’t corner the market exactly, but progressives like Klobuchar used to argue it comes uncomfortably close.
Critics were disappointed when members of the Federal Trade Commission voted along party lines back in February not to investigate allegations of anti-competitive behavior by these pharmacy benefit managers. Nonetheless, they keep trying to call on the heavy hand of government regulation to swipe them into line.
Klobuchar cannot be unaware of this ,yet for some reason, her bill (which also has the support of Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., chairman of the House Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, doesn’t mandate or include a mechanism triggering their scrutiny under the proposed new track taken by the proposed legislation. Has cronyism crept into the process?
Some say yes, pointing to the fact UnitedHealth OptumRx, the No. 3 company, has its headquarters in Klobuchar’s Minnesota. CVS, which has the largest single share of the market, is based in Rhode Island, just like Cicilline,
UnitedHealth has given $154,820 in campaign contributions to Klobuchar while CVS gave $50,085 in political money to Cicilline, who also backed the company’s proposed $69 billion merger with Aetna, one of the largest of the nation’s health insurers.
That’s just the kind of business deal the legislation looks to stop because Klobuchar and friends believe mega-mergers are bad for consumers.
Coincidence? Probably. Still, the taint of corruption touches so much of what Washington does these days it’s hard to be sure.
What is clear is that big is not necessarily bad and that the consumer welfare standard, which has been the prevailing justification for most antitrust actions taken for nearly five decades, is a sound enough approach to dealing with legitimate antitrust issues when they arrive.
Klobuchar’s bill should be allowed to go no further.
President Joe Biden’s administration overlooked certain contenders in a contract bidding process to pay an organization run by a former Biden-Harris transition leader more than $87 million to place illegal migrant families 1,200 hotel beds in Arizona and Texas, according to the Washington Examiner.
While contracts from the federal government are usually bid on by various organizations, multiple sources, and data reported by the Examiner indicated that Family Endeavors, run by former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer and the senior official who evaluated Biden’s picks for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, outright won the contract without any competitors.
“Information obtained through the Federal Procurement Data System indicates that ICE never opened the contract to outside companies and organizations but went with an internal candidate who had significant insider connections,” the Examiner reported.
Family Endeavors had contracted with the federal government on smaller projects before, such as working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Acquisition Service. Most of these contracts, the Examiner noted, however, were less than $1.5 million apiece, making the new $87 million contract “more than double the money it took in last year.”
Despite the Family Endeavors’ lack of experience as an ICE contractor, the immigration agency wrote off the breach of federal contract law benefitting the nonprofit as an “unusual and compelling urgency” that provided “short term” solutions to the influx of migrants in HHS’s care.
Lorenzen-Strait reportedly entered the contract just two months after he left the Biden campaign to join Family Endeavors as its senior director for migrant services and federal affairs. Before that, he worked under the now-director of ICE Tae Johnson to manage border detention facilities. According to the Examiner, Johnson “would have the final say on the $87 million contract.”
By Havasu News•
The coronavirus crisis has likely changed American business forever, as politicians use the deadly pandemic to push for changes that will have a major impact on how corporations operate.
How business respond will determine the future of American commerce for years. Important business leaders like Black Rock’s Larry Fink are pushing companies to expand their mission beyond maximizing value for shareholders into things that are on progressives’ political wish list.
What Fink and others are advocating for drifts harmfully towards what progressives promote as they seek to control the business sector and move to a centrally planned economy.
If the American economy is to survive, let alone thrive, we need corporate leaders to step up in defense of the free market. They need to eschew the insider deals and crony capitalism that have caused many Americans, especially the young, to lose faith in what, as Churchill might have quipped, is the worst of all possible economic systems except for all the others.
There are heroes out there like Tesla’s Elon Musk, who recently stood up to Gov. Gavin Newsome and other officials who would not permit his California manufacturing plant to reopen and get people back to work. To Musk’s credit, even though his empire is built on questionable tax breaks, credits, and subsidies, he pushed back where other business leaders have sheepishly complied. He announced he’d be taking his company and the jobs he created to Texas or Nevada, where they would be welcomed. Faced with that, Newsome and company seem to have backed down.
For every hero, there are goats like Alan Armstrong, the CEO of Williams Co., an energy pipeline company. According to recent allegations made in a Delaware court, he secretly worked to undermine a 2016 board-approved merger between his firm and Energy Transfer, a Texas-based pipeline company, that would have paid shareholders a significant premium over the then-market value of their shares.
Nearly four years since it fell through, Williams continues to seek more than a billion dollars in breakup fees, despite Armstrong’s recently alleged involvement in the deal’s demise. According to court documents, he even worked behind the scenes with a former Williams senior vice president by using a personal account and leaking inside information to assist a lawsuit filed to block the proposed and ultimately unconsummated merger. As a result, half of his board of directors resigned days after the deal was called off, citing a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the company.
The reason he acted as he did, the court was told, was out of a desire to maintain his position as CEO even if his continued leadership of the company was detrimental to shareholder interests.
Actions like these in the corporate community have regular Americans – more and more of whom join the investor class every day through their 401Ks, Roth IRAs, and by trading stocks online – wondering if their money is safe, or if they’re just feeding corporate cats growing fat off their investments.
Warren Buffet, one of the country’s most respected financial leaders, argued in a recent interview that not enough attention is paid to corporate leadership and governance. “Almost all of the directors I have met over the years have been decent, likable and intelligent,” he said. “Nevertheless, many of these good souls are people whom I would never have chosen to handle money or business matters. It simply was not their game.”
If the CEOs and boards of America’s companies don’t step up to restore public confidence in who they are and what they do, then the politicians will – as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to do in the first coronavirus relief bill. Other than the privileged few that would have been picked to serve on boards if her proposed amendment requiring diversity on corporate boards had been adopted, it would have been bad for business and everyone else.
The clock is running.
The recent coronavirus pandemic has left Americans scrambling to adjust to the new reality of state-sanctioned isolation. As governments struggle to address the crisis, big conglomerates have been trying to leverage this scare to get public approval wins and points with legislators.
We’ve all received emails from companies this week who can’t wait to talk about how much they’re helping. Amazon is conducting a massive hiring push; utility companies are postponing payments. But don’t be fooled. They never have, and never will, set aside their own self-interest and have only the consumers’ best interest at heart.
As this crisis continues, we should observe their interactions with legislatures and be vigilant in monitoring the favors for which they are asking.
Take, for example, Exelon. Exelon is a national energy supplier that operates in five states and the District of Columbia. It generated over $33 billion in revenue last year alone, and during the crisis has tried to drum up headlines by donating more than $1 million through its family of companies to fight the pandemic.
Additionally, they have suspended service disconnections to customers and have made direct donations to relief efforts. All of this is undoubtedly good for consumers and the public, but what do they want in return?
We’ve seen plenty of examples of what companies want when they work with governments. It’s the same thing they want from consumers: money. Whether it’s Foxconn and Amazon asking for relocation tax credits, or local developers cashing in on bad government policy, big companies do whatever it takes to turn their cash-grabs into positive PR.
You’ve seen the photo-ops. Company heads and elected officials standing together, praising the potential economic gains that will be made by these deals. In reality, however, these deals rarely amount to anything more than a taxpayer-giveaway to special interest groups.
In examining what the end goal is for some of these corporations, let’s look at an example of lobbying issues currently happening in Illinois. The state is looking to do an overhaul of the energy sector by passing a green energy bill, known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act.
State lawmakers created sections within the bill that would allow Exelon to inflict even higher costs on taxpayers, but then corruption probes into the company’s lobbying and relationship with state lawmakers got in the way and sidelined the bill in 2019. Now with the virus presenting an opportunity for a PR victory, it’s not surprising to see the neighborhood utility conglomerate strike a more helpful appearance right before the state legislature is expected to move the bill.
While $1 million and some customer bill relief may sound generous, it’s barely even a fraction of the hundreds of million this Fortune 100 company receives in subsidies from taxpayers annually. And what Exelon would get in return with the passage of this new bill will amount to substantially more than its $1 million PR push. At the end of the day, companies do what’s best for their bottom line.
Companies like Exelon operate as opportunists when disasters provide a chance to gain support from the public (think Oakley sunglasses with the Chilean miners.) Still, we can’t allow that to distract from the predatory actions these same companies use when pushing to gain access to tax dollars.
Exelon has attempted to hijack a clean energy jobs bill to receive more business and subsidies — ensuring continued cash flow regardless of performance, all while destroying any good the bill would do.
As we watch the world respond to this terrible crisis, we must remain vigilant to the cronyism that persists in the economy today from massive corporations whose entrepreneurial instincts have led them to reach for the state coffers in hopes at an easy payday.
While we should praise the companies who commit to actions that better the public good, we must never lose sight of the possible corruption these conglomerates are perpetrating. The health of our nation depends on it.
By John Stossel • Reason
Today is the Super Bowl.
I look forward to playing poker and watching. It’s easy to do both because in a three-hour-plus NFL game there are just 11 minutes of actual football action.
So we’ll have plenty of time to watch Atlanta politicians take credit for the stadium that will host the game. Atlanta’s former mayor calls it “simply the best facility in the world.”
But politicians aren’t likely to talk about what I explain in my latest video—how taxpayers were forced to donate more than $700 million to the owner of Atlanta’s football team, billionaire Arthur Blank, to get him to build the stadium. Continue reading
The function of an Inspector General (IG) in the federal government is to detect waste, mismanagement, fraud, abuse, and even criminality. Each federal department or agency has an IG. But not all IGs are created equal. Some are fair minded watch-dogs who protect the taxpayer and follow the law in a nonpartisan way. But some are not. NASA’s Inspector General, Paul Martin, has repeatedly proven himself to be a defender of cronyism and a partisan hack.
Congressional leaders passed along whistleblower information to Martin that NASA had employed a Chinese spy and that Obama NASA appointees sought to circumvent the rules prohibiting the hiring of foreign nationals at NASA. Martin was angry with congressional leaders for revealing the spy problem, not with NASA officials for breaching our national security. He did nothing. Within days, the FBI arrested the Chinese spy, Bo Jiang, at the airport as he was fleeing to China on a one-way ticket with a treasure trove of sensitive information. Sadly, this was not the spy’s first data dump. But Martin wasn’t interested in investigating.
Martin isn’t just soft on spying at NASA. He has not protected the taxpayer, or rooted out waste or fraud. For example, NASA employees objected to the special treatment given SpaceX and provided evidence of favoritism, bid-rigging, and a long list of unethical and illegal actions. The entire process was subverted to benefit SpaceX, while the taxpayer was fleeced and competitors locked out. Long before the process was completed, top NASA officials were directing staff to give the award to SpaceX. In other words, the process was backwards — “Fire! Aim! Ready!” Continue reading
by Jeffrey H. Anderson
After the upset of House majority leader Eric Cantor at the hands of GOP primary voters, many congressional Republicans may be looking for ways to show they are listening to their constituents. One way they can do so is to take renewed aim at Obamacare.
Obamacare’s risk-corridor program is serving as a slush fund for President Obama. He is using that fund to placate his insurance company allies whom he double-crossed. After Obama declared last fall that insurance policies banned by Obamacare would be unbanned by presidential proclamation, insurers were understandably alarmed. Obama’s lawless decree meant that millions of people who already had insurance—and who were likely to be healthier on the whole than those who didn’t—would not be forced into the Obamacare exchanges after all. His decree, therefore, likely made the exchanges’ risk pools even worse. Continue reading
by Charles G. Koch
“We didn’t build this business—somebody else did.”
So reads a sign outside a small roadside craft store in Utah. The message is clearly tongue-in-cheek. But if it hung next to the corporate offices of some of our nation’s big financial institutions or auto makers, there would be no irony in the message at all.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the role of American business is increasingly vilified or viewed with skepticism. In a Rasmussen poll conducted this year, 68% of voters said they “believe government and big business work together against the rest of us.” Continue reading