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A ban on mergers during the coronavirus pandemic should be added to the next relief package, says House antitrust chairman

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., left, chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, speaks alongside ranking member, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing with representatives from major tech companies, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
  • Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, is seeking a ban on mergers during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • He told Politico that he wants a provision in the next relief package that would ban all mergers that don't directly deal with a company about to fail. 
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The chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, Rep. David Cicilline, plans to introduce a provision for the next coronavirus relief package to ban mergers until the pandemic is over, he said in an interview with Politico's Leah Nylen and Betsy Woodruff Swan.
Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, is worried that the pandemic could start a "buying spree" in which financially-stable companies could take advantage of the economic downturn and lead to a decline in competition.
The ban on mergers would exclude companies already in bankruptcy or otherwise set to fail imminently, the report said, and would end as soon as the pandemic declaration is lifted.
It is unclear if the provision would have enough support from Republicans, including the president and the Republican-led Senate, to become law.
The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department's antitrust division, which hold regulatory power over mergers, have not publicly called for such a ban.
The agencies said in March that they "will aim to respond expeditiously to all COVID-19-related requests" with "guidance about how to ensure their efforts comply with the federal antitrust laws," as some companies enter into unique partnerships to address the pandemic.
The agencies did not address mergers specifically, but said that "many types of collaborative activities designed to improve the health and safety response to the pandemic would be consistent with the antitrust laws," such as sharing of technical knowledge or research and development.
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