Congress Countdown: Competition/Antitrust Pivot

Here at Capital in Context, we do advent calendars a little differently. Starting today, we’re launching a new series we’re calling Congress Countdown—with the goal of giving you the rundown of what you can expect from the 118th Congress in specific issue areas. Watch for more topic areas in the coming weeks.

When it comes to competition and antitrust policy, we expect Congressional Republicans to shift from focusing on competition and antitrust concerns to censorship of conservative political speech and perceived “woke” behavior by corporate America.

Some level of Senate bipartisanship is likely to remain, where “Big Tech” antitrust bills are likely to be re-introduced in some form.

More aggressive action from the two antitrust agencies will challenge consolidation across industries and continue pursuit of lawsuits against Big Tech firms. 

Republicans will likely:

  • Increase oversight into DOJ’s Antitrust Division and the FTC.
  • Hold hearings aimed at tech companies-likely focused on speech and censorship issues.
  • Be less inclined to move expansive antitrust legislation and grant resources and authority to antitrust enforcement agencies.

Congress Countdown: Tech and Media Microscope

The New GOP House majority will pursue oversight, investigations and legislation targeted at technology and media companies, as well as a myriad of other policy areas.

Key legislation focuses on comprehensive data privacy, kids’ privacy and safety online and Section 230/viewpoint discrimination.

Republicans will likely:

  • Initiate legislative and oversight activity targeted at Big Tech and Hollywood—including the pursuit of comprehensive and kids’ privacy legislation—and target the companies’ ties to China and alleged censorship of conservative viewpoints.
  • Work with the Biden administration to restrict China’s access to semiconductor and other technologies and pursue oversight if they believe the administration is being insufficiently aggressive.
  • Move legislation to update the laws governing autonomous vehicles (AVs) and conduct aggressive oversight of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to speed the rulemaking process.
  • Conduct oversight of Biden Administration implementation of broadband connectivity programs, seeking examples of waste.
  • Increase oversight of the FCC and FTC. However, each entity will continue to operate as a 2-2 (FCC) and 3-1 (FTC) body for the foreseeable future.

Congress Countdown: Tangle on Tax

Tax policy is likely to remain fractious and highly partisan
, with Republicans focused on extending business and individual tax preferences that expire in 2025, and Democrats focused on provisions for lower-income taxpayers, such as the refundable child tax credit and earned income tax credit.

Key legislation includes the expiring 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provisions, the child tax credit, earned income tax credit and international tax reforms.

Areas for bipartisan cooperation in near term do exist, but are limited to smaller items such as pension reform, disaster relief, and perhaps tax extenders.

Republicans will likely:

  • Remain focused on making items in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanent.
  • Attempt to reverse certain business tax increases, such as amortizing R&D expenses, that went into effect this year.
  • Attempt to use the annual appropriations process to roll back IRS enforcement funding or place new limits on the use of the funds.
  • Conduct oversight aimed at IRS leaks of confidential taxpayer information, such as the leak to ProPublica.

Opposites Attract

A deal expected to pass the Senate today on same-sex marriage proves compromise is possible even in today’s partisan Washington environment. 

The passage of the Respect for Marriage Act will be the most significant progress for LGBTQ Americans on the Hill since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

When the Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to an abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas raised alarms in the LGBTQ community by suggesting the Court should also reconsider the right to gay marriage. 

If the court’s landmark 2015 decision is overruled, it leaves the still-on-the-books Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting same-sex marriage as the law of the nation, upending families across the country.

That’s why Congress is moving the Respect for Marriage Act, which will protect the legality of same-sex marriages. A bipartisan group of senators and coalitions have been working diligently behind the scenes to find agreement on language that would bring along Republican votes.

The crux of the deal? Making sure the new law wouldn’t take any current rights away from religious institutions and acknowledging explicitly that diverse beliefs about marriage and the people who hold them are due respect.

Religious groups including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the National Association of Evangelicals, among others, have publicly endorsed the amended version of the legislation. 

The pen isn’t dry quite yet – the amended bill will have to return to the House for a vote, where it’s expected to quickly pass. 

The lesson, though, is clear: through respectful dialogue among diverse stakeholders, creating and passing bipartisan legislation is absolutely possible.

Speaking Their Language

DC policy influencers are a powerful audience segment. The key to successfully targeting this group is understanding their media consumption habits, which have shifted dramatically over the past few years. 

Data shows that trust in the media has declined since the start of the pandemic, as influencers maintain that news and media in Washington are partisan. Yet, with a growing number of new media outlets, digital consumption is on the rise. Recent studies give insight into shifting behaviors to help us formulate effective digital strategies. 

FGS Global partner Basis Technologies shared their research on the best way to reach policy influencers: 

  • Research shows a 20% increase in time spent on social networks since 2019. DC insiders have increasingly turned to LinkedIn and Twitter in particular (we’ll see if this holds post-Musk).
  • DC insiders are integrating audio into daily news consumption as the commute returns. Podcast consumption will account for over 25% of digital audio ad spending in 2022. 
  • Newsletter readership has remained steady with 50% of insiders reading e-newsletters for Washington-focused news at least once per day. 
  • National and Beltway media brands remain the most trusted sources for news and information. Leading brands include The Washington Post, Politico, and The New York Times, with over half of policy elites relying on these three sources. 
  • COVID-19 accelerated streaming TV viewership and, for the first time ever, streaming surpassed cable in July 2022. 1 in 3 DC influencers anticipate using a streaming media device more often than they did last year. 
    • Strategy Consideration: Sunday Morning slots have shown a 4% year-over-year growth in viewership.

Getting Ducks in a Row

Washington loves a countdown clock, and the election has delivered several for the lame duck session of the current Congress before newly elected legislators take over in the new year. 

There are seven days until the Georgia run-off, 17 days until the government runs out of money and about 23 until the real jet fumes start burning to take policymakers home for the holidays. 

With divided government looming in January, lawmakers look ready to approve several major pieces of legislation before Congress adjourns for the year. Bipartisan bills that would recognize the validity of same-sex marriage, reform how electoral votes are counted and set the defense budget could see action in the coming weeks.  

However, the road gets tougher—and more partisan—when it comes to approving government funding, retirement security and tax issues—to say nothing about the Biden Administration’s continued interest in Congress increasing the national debt limit or intervening in the potential rail strike.

With this long list of unfinished business, there appears to be one thing we can predict: Lawmakers are likely to pass a one-week extension of government funding (which expires on December 16) and then it will be a sprint to the finish just in time to catch the last flight home before the holidays.

The Rest is Silence?

Twitter audiences and users haven’t yet moved en masse to a new platform, but other services like Mastodon are getting more attention. And with “critical” technical teams inside Twitter resigning, brands should begin to think about a post-Twitter universe. But until large groups of opinion elites leave the platform, it will still have value.

Brands should evaluate new platforms on a rolling basis while monitoring conversation and content performance on Twitter. Consider preemptively securing handles on new platforms. In making platform decisions, consider: 

  • Where is my audience
  • What am I looking to achieve with my audience on this platform?
  • Which spaces fit my brand and content?

Twitter Recommendations

  • Prepare your audiences for change. Be ready to notify your followers where they can reach you, including other social handles and links to newsletter subscription pages. Consider thanking followers for their support on Twitter.
  • Remain vigilant. Monitor follower count, engagement and key conversations to see if your priority audiences are migrating.
  • Download your data. Preserve your data and historical content through Settings and Support > Settings and privacy > Your account > Download an archive of your data.
  • Monitor brand and campaign mentions for paid verified impersonator accounts—and make sure you’re not engaging with possible impersonators.
  • Ready response plans and/or holding statements in the event of a viral impersonation and report the violation to Twitter.
  • Approach paid verification with caution once Musk relaunches Twitter Blue, which he has delayed to fight “significant impersonations.” 

Paid Considerations

  • At a minimum, all advertisers should review their platform targeting and tighten selections as needed to forestall appearing next to controversial content.
  • Clients who use Twitter for goals other than general brand awareness or purchasing intent should consider continuing campaigns. Twitter still has thought leadership value for clients, though paid verification has begun to impact the credibility of its conversations and the handles participating in them. 

Find our full set of updated recommendations here.