He got Congress to care about antitrust again. Now time is running out, says David Cicilline

David Cicilline was late getting into antitrust, at least for him.

Antitrust was never on the agenda at the school board meetings he started attending when he was 13, or the town council meetings he got his parents to drive him to a year later. (That would be getting Italian added to the high school’s foreign language options, and then resisting oceanfront condo development in Narragansett, R.I., and both campaigns he won.)

Competition policy was never a plank for the College Democrats group he started at Brown University with John F. Kennedy Jr. Cicilline didn’t take any antitrust classes at Georgetown Law, and he doesn’t remember if it was even a topic on the bar exam. Antitrust didn’t come up during his mayorship in Providence, was a nonissue when he ran for Congress, and was the last of the House Judiciary subcommittees he wanted to join, let alone lead one day. “The truth is, I didn’t know anything about antitrust,” he said.

Ambition, and some friendly nudging to break out his comfort zone from the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, are what led Cicilline to where he is today: chairman of a subcommittee that seeks to do nothing less than replace a sleepy regulatory regime that’s prevailed with bipartisan support for the past half-century with an emergent consensus around aggressively trust-busting, starting with a suite of bills aimed at curbing Big Tech’s dominance of the marketplace. 

Time is ticking. While Republican ranking member Ken Buck leads a sizable contingent of Republican antitrust allies, and there’s bipartisan support in the Senate led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, most of the GOP seems uninterested in major reforms. If Democrats lose control of Congress in the midterms, as most election handicappers expect, there’s little hope any of the antitrust reforms will happen.

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