Republican House panel launches probe into Biden’s FTC-DOJ task force

Politics

FTC Commissioner nominee Lina M. Khan testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on the nomination of Former Senator Bill Nelson to be NASA administrator, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2021. 

Graeme Jennings | Reuters

The Republican-led House Oversight Committee is launching an investigation into President Joe Biden’s newly established task force on corporate-pricing practices, claiming it could be used as a “political tool,” according to a letter obtained by CNBC

In the letter dated Tuesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability demanded that by April 30, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan turn over all FTC records related to the creation of the Strike Force on Unfair and Illegal Pricing, which Biden launched in March to address concerns related to corporate-pricing practices.

“The timing of the Strike Force announcement, in an election year, raises the likelihood that political motivations rather than the interests of American consumers drove the action,” House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said in the letter. “To use the FTC as a tool in a political witch hunt against U.S. businesses would be a shocking misuse of the agency’s power.”

The Strike Force is jointly led by the FTC and the Department of Justice, which have been at the front lines of the Biden administration’s regulatory agenda over the past several years.

Khan and DOJ antitrust chief Jonathan Kanter have taken action against over 50 proposed deals in sectors like tech, energy and grocery since taking their posts in 2021, tallying both wins and losses.

In the letter, Comer also asked for all documents related to the FTC’s 2021 investigation into alleged gasoline price fixing, along with proposed mergers between major grocers Kroger and Albertsons and other companies.

“This FTC — which is supposed to be an independent agency — has a history of doing President Biden’s partisan bidding,” Comer said in the letter.

The FTC declined to comment.

The House panel’s probe is the latest in a series of investigations looking into the FTC and Khan, who has become a major GOP target during the ramping up of antitrust enforcement under her leadership.

Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign hinges in part on his ability to convince voters that his economic agenda has been good for their wallets. And while the economy has teetered along a precarious recovery since the havoc brought by the Covid pandemic, inflation has remained sticky and consumers have not felt full relief in their day-to-day living costs.

Biden has in turn regularly accused big corporations of keeping prices artificially high even though pandemic-era supply chain snarls have healed and producer costs have cooled.

Comer alleged in the letter that “this pattern” of blaming corporate-pricing practices for inflation “signals that the new FTC-DOJ Strike Force will be used as a political tool.”

But Biden’s logic that companies are the ones responsible for high prices, not his economic agenda, could be taking hold with voters. A March survey found that respondents blamed recent price hikes on “large corporations taking advantage of inflation” more than Democratic policies.

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