July 26, 2009


This is kind of ironic, isn't it? Politicians are worried about losing the support of big business, because big business gives big campaign contributions. And why do they need big contributions? To win campaigns. And what do you need to win campaigns? Votes.

Wouldn't you think they'd see how easy it would be to cut out the middleman and simply make the voters happy? I mean, what could be more of a crowd-pleaser than taking on the cable companies and their high-priced monopolies?

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s top antitrust official and some senior Democratic lawmakers are preparing to rein in a host of major industries, including airline and railroad giants, moving so aggressively that they are finding some resistance from officials within the administration.

The official, Christine A. Varney, the antitrust chief at the Justice Department, has begun examining complaints by the phone companies Verizon and AT&T that their rivals — major cable operators like Cablevision and Cox Communications — improperly prevent them from buying sports shows and other programs that the cable companies produce, industry lawyers said.

At the request of some lawmakers, notably Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, Ms. Varney is examining whether small agricultural operations are being hampered unfairly by large food processors, particularly in the milk industry, congressional aides said.

Ms. Varney has also challenged agreements that the Federal Trade Commission and consumer groups say discourage pharmaceutical companies from marketing more generic drugs. And she is examining a settlement between Google and book publishers and authors to make more books available online.

The more aggressive antitrust policy was described in interviews with officials at the White House, the Justice Department, other agencies and Congress. It is a major policy reversal from the Bush administration, which did not prosecute cases in which some dominant companies engaged in potentially anticompetitive behavior, often because those officials maintained such behavior was not harmful to consumers.

Democrats have spent years trying to gain the support of businesses, and the policy changes under way may have long-term political implications for their party. Some companies would like to see more aggressive antitrust enforcement against their rivals, while others could be hurt by it.

In some cases, though, the new approach is being opposed by administration officials. Some fear that the crackdown is coming at a bad time, as corporate America reels from the recession. Other officials embrace the Bush administration’s view that larger companies and industry alliances can provide consumer benefits by making their businesses more efficient.

One clash played out recently when the Transportation Department, rejecting many of Ms. Varney’s recommendations, approved an antitrust immunity request involving a global alliance of nine airlines; Continental Airlines wanted to join the alliance to share routes, marketing and revenue.

The antitrust division argued the immunity was unnecessary for approving the newly reconstituted alliance and that it could lead to rates rising from 6 to 15 percent for many routes, according to public filings. The Transportation Department rejected that analysis for most of the routes and instead endorsed a policy popular during the Bush administration that favored such industry agreements out of a desire for efficiency.

Can you help us out?

For nearly 20 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.