Bipartisan U.S. bill to raise merger fees for big deals passes Senate panel

Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing in Washington
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bill to increase the fees that companies planning the biggest mergers pay to government antitrust agencies and to give those agencies bigger budgets passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday on a voice vote.

The bill - co-sponsored by Amy Klobuchar, the top antitrust senator, and Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee - would lower the fee for smaller mergers under $161.5 million from $45,000 to $30,000. But for deals worth $5 billion or more, the fee would rise from $280,000 to $2.25 million.

Under the bill, those costs would increase with inflation.

The Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department's Antitrust Division assess mergers to ensure that they comply with antitrust law.

The bill would increase authorizations to each, giving the FTC a budget of $418 million while the Justice Department's Antitrust Division would receive $252 million.

In brief remarks before the vote, Klobuchar said the fees had not changed since 2001, and that the Justice Department sued Alphabet's Google last year while the FTC filed a major antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.

"You just cannot take on the biggest companies in the world with duct tape and Band-Aids," she said.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, said in comments during a discussion of the bill that he was "quite disappointed by the lax antitrust enforcement we saw in the previous administration."

He said that he hoped that the FTC and Justice Department would be tougher. "Democrats have historically been more vigorous on antitrust than Republicans, and so perhaps that instinct, which at times can be harmful, will be positively directed towards the monopolists we have in Silicon Valley."

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by John Stonestreet)

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