As they aim to rebound from the 2016 election cycle, Congressional Democrats are training their sights on a new enemy: mega-mergers.
Democrats unveiled a new platform Monday that in part calls for a crack down on “corporate monopolies,” blaming industry consolidation for stagnant wage growth, hiking consumer prices, and hampering small businesses’ abilities to compete.
In outlining its plan – which harkens back to the trust-busting days of the early-20th century and calls for an overhaul of antitrust laws – Democrats name-check five industries as examples of anti-competitive M&A run amok: airlines, telecommunications, beer, food, and eyeglasses.
The attack on M&A, and by extension, the Wall Street dealmakers who help put big-ticket deals together and the investors who support the deals, comes at a time when dealmaking involving US companies is declining. US targeted M&A dropped to $583.9 billion in the first half of this year, according to Thomson Reuters, down 15.9% from the same period a year earlier.
Under the Democrats’ “Better Deal” plan, which was rolled out by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, mega-deals like Anheuser-Busch InBev’s $107 billion merger with SABMiller would be far more difficult to complete.
The plan calls for beefing up regulators’ powers in reviewing and approving large mergers, which would be considered presumptively anticompetitive and place the burden on corporations to prove benefits beyond shareholder gain.
In a case like that of AT&T and Time Warner’s proposed $85 billion merger – which the plan singles out for its potential to harm customers and small businesses – the companies would need to prove that the consolidation wouldn’t “reduce wages, cut jobs, lower product quality, limit access to services, stifle innovation, or hinder the ability of small businesses and entrepreneurs to compete.”
“In addition, under our new standards, companies proposing the largest mergers would be presumed to be anticompetitive and would be blocked unless the merging firms could establish the benefits of the deal,” the plan reads. “By forcing consolidating companies to justify the benefits of their mergers, we will not only prevent harmful concentration, we will also incentivize companies to be better corporate citizens.”
After a deal is completed, the plan would require post-merger check-ups by regulators to ensure the companies are adhering to agreed-upon conditions.
“Regulators would be empowered and required to take corrective measures if they find abusive monopolistic conditions where previously approved measures fail to make good on their intended outcomes,” the plan says.
Democrats also aim to create an independent “consumer competition advocate” to hold regulators like the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice accountable for pursuing and combating anti-competitive business practices.
The size of a merger that would come under stricter scrutiny wasn’t specified in the plan.
Given that Republicans control both the Senate and the House, the proposals stand little chance of impacting Wall Street absent a wave of Democratic victories in the 2018 mid-term elections.