Chillin' out till it needs to be funded
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.