Sunday, October 02, 2022
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SCOTT BROWN: American Innovation & Choice Act Isn’t The Answer



Inflation is the unfortunate topic du jour for families across America, squeezing budgets and forcing tough conversations around kitchen tables. The Biden Administration is being rightly lampooned for scrambling to redefine the technical term of “recession,” as if a textbook debate will bring any relief to those living with its consequences. Meanwhile, some in Congress, including certain conservatives, are threatening to exacerbate the problem through a bill called the American Innovation and Choice Online (AICO) Act.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly those asking voters for another term in Washington this fall, should oppose this misguided legislation.

Billed by its supporters as an antitrust effort to punish so-called Big Tech, the AICO Act imposes restrictions on tech companies’ ability to feature their products and services online. Proponents have tried to tap into Americans’ concerns about content moderation by tech companies to muster support for this bill. But Larry Summers, President Obama’s former top economic adviser whose early warning signs about inflation were sadly ignored by the current administration, has sounded the alarm bell on policies reflected in this bill as well, saying it could worsen our economic woes.

When even prominent left-wing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is willing to admit he “got it wrong on inflation,” it’s time for the rest of us to take note.

Take for example Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the cost of living crisis is hitting especially hard, forcing residents to seek assistance from local charities to make ends meet. Consumer prices in the West South Central region, which includes Louisiana, jumped a whopping 10.6% during the past 12 months. Beyond rising costs of gas, grocery and rent prices, many Louisianans will soon face a new slate of annual expenses for back to school season – prices are projected to be 8% higher than last year.

In fact, according to a new study from Merchant Maverick, Louisiana has suffered more than any other state from the current inflationary crisis, driven by the one-two punch of a high sales tax and low average state income. The state’s tourism industry is still recovering from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and GDP dropped 4.3% in the first quarter.

Proponents of the AICO Act argue that the tech companies have become too big and must be reined in. To be sure, that is a debate worth having. But their proposed “solution” throws the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. The AICO Act would eliminate features many Americans rely on, such as Google Maps or Amazon Prime and its free two-day shipping. A recent survey conducted by AXIS Research found that 70% of Americans oppose this legislation when they learn of its consequences. That same survey found that 81% of voters believe that market competition, not government regulation, is the fuel of American innovation.

Setting aside the economic consequences, the AICO Act would not address the concerns that many Americans, especially conservatives, feel about how companies treat content, especially political material.

Through a national security lens, the bill’s vague language requiring covered U.S. companies to make their products and services interoperable with other platforms poses a risk to Americans’ private data and hurts our global competitiveness. Forcing U.S. businesses to open their secure devices and operating systems to foreign rivals could lead to nefarious state-backed actors accessing Americans’ data.

As a former U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, I believe we cannot cede ground to foreign foes. The Chinese Communist Party has recognized the U.S. and China are in a strategic battle when it comes to the emerging fields like AI and quantum computing, and it’s why Beijing has made significant investments in those areas. The last thing Congress should be doing at this precarious time is handing over the keys to the castle and kneecapping our own innovators.

The window for addressing record-high inflation and economic uncertainty is closing – but policymakers still have time to take one bad idea off the table by rejecting the AICO Act. This legislation presents far too many security vulnerabilities and does nothing to fix the most pressing economic issue. Louisiana’s federal delegation can work in a bipartisan fashion to help lift – rather than hurt – struggling businesses, families and taxpayers. That process starts by rejecting the AICO Act.

A former Ambassador to New Zealand and Republican U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, Scott Brown is the Chair of the Competitiveness Coalition.