Klobuchar bill would help U.S. antitrust enforcers stop mergers

WASHINGTON, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is expected to be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, will introduce on Thursday a bill to strengthen antitrust enforcers’ ability to stop mergers.

The bill would reduce the standard for stopping mergers, from saying that the government had to prove that a deal would “substantially lessen competition” to showing that it would “create an appreciable risk of materially lessening competition.”

The bill comes as progressives have raised the profile of antitrust, a topic that rarely makes headlines. It also comes after a year in which federal and state governments filed big antitrust lawsuits against Alphabet’s Google and Facebook and sued to block big mergers, like Visa’s plan to buy fintech company Plaid.

One provision in the bill would give significantly more funds to the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, which divide up the work of enforcement.

The bill would increase authorizations to each agency by $300 million, bringing the FTC to $651 million and the Justice’s division to $484.5 million.

“What do I think we can immediately do, that matters the most, is increasing the resources. They can’t take a trillion dollar company on with Band-Aids and duct tape,” Klobuchar said, referring to the lawsuits against Google and Facebook.

But Klobuchar is not worried just about big tech, but also about communications, agriculture and drug prices, she said.

The bill is “broader because we have a monopoly problem in our country,” she said.

The bill identifies several types of mergers -- like deals valued at more than $5 billion or when a company buys a disruptive rival -- where the burden of proof would shift so that the merging companies would have to show that the merger was legal under antitrust law. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)