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Biden signs sweeping order aimed at limiting corporate power

Anti-trust directive affects issues ranging from hearing aids and prescription drug prices to airline fees and non-compete agreements.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order taking aim at corporate consolidation and big businesses that he said unfairly drive up consumer prices, decrease worker wages and make it more difficult for new companies to emerge.

The order — which includes 72 initiatives across more than a dozen federal agencies — addresses a wide range of issues, from hearing aids to airline fees, and marks one of the most aggressive attempts in generations to enforce antitrust policy.

"Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It's exploitation," Biden said in a signing ceremony at the White House.

Among the industries that the order targets are health care, agriculture, transportation, internet service providers and tech companies.

The order also seeks to give workers more power in the labor market by asking the Federal Trade Commission to ban or limit non-compete agreements as well as unnecessary occupational licensing requirements. And it asks the FTC and the Justice Department to prevent employers from sharing information on workers’ wages, which could be used to keep employee wages low.

At the White House ceremony, Biden argued for the return to the antimonopoly spirit championed by Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt and called the past 40 years of lax enforcement the "wrong path" that allowed giant corporations to accumulate too much power at the expense of the American people.

"Between them, the two Roosevelts established an American tradition: an antitrust tradition. It's how we ensure that our economy isn't about people working for capitalism, it's about capitalism working for people," Biden said.

While the order covers a number of different sectors, Biden touted the efforts to limit non-compete agreements as well as efforts to tackle increased prices in the health care industry.

The order directs the Food and Drug Administration to work with states and tribes to import prescription drugs from Canada, where they are sold at a much lower price, and encourages new rules that would allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter.

It also asks the FTC to ban "pay for delay," a practice in which brand-name drug manufacturers pay generic manufacturers to stay out of the market to avoid any competition that could reduce the price of the drug for consumers.

Biden said that as a result of the lack of competition in health care, Americans pay two and a half times more for prescription drugs compared with other countries, and only one in seven Americans with hearing loss actually uses hearing aides.

In the agricultural sector, the order asks the FTC to stop manufacturers from banning farmers from repairing their own equipment and it asks the Department of Agriculture to issue new rules cracking down on foreign meat companies that misleadingly use "Product of the USA" labels.

The order also encourages new rules that would require airlines to clearly disclose fees on luggage and flight changes and to refund fees when a service isn’t provided or baggage is delayed. Additionally, it directs agencies to take steps to prevent rail and ocean shipping industries from overcharging for transporting goods that has led to an increase in consumer products.

"All told, between rising prices and lowering wages, lack of competition costs the median American household $5,000 a year," Biden said.

"Without healthy competition, big players can change and charge whatever they want and treat you however they want. And for too many Americans that means accepting a bad deal for things you can't go without," he continued.

Biden's order also directs his administration to scrutinize mergers of Big Tech platforms more closely and allows the DOJ and the FTC to more closely scrutinize mergers. The order encourages the FTC to create rules on the accumulation of personal information and other data by tech companies as well as restore net neutrality rules that were undone during the Trump administration.

The order also establishes a White House Competition Council that will monitor progress on these initiatives.

"Fair competition is what made America the wealthiest, most innovative nation in history," Biden said. "Imagine if we give everyone a full and fair chance."