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House antitrust panel chairman urges halt to corporate mergers amid pandemic

Cicilline says he will push for such language in future COVID-19 relief bill

The House’s top Democrat on antitrust issues is calling for a moratorium on corporate mergers in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed moratorium would apply to all transactions unless they involve firms that are failing or in bankruptcy, Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee, said Thursday at an online event hosted by the Open Markets Institute, a Washington-based advocacy group.

The Rhode Island Democrat said he will push to have such language included in a future round of COVID-19 economic relief legislation.

“Mega-mergers and corporate takeovers that were permitted during the last economic crisis led to the firing of millions of workers, the slowing of investment and innovation, and huge increases in executive compensation,” Cicilline said, according to prepared remarks. 

The proposal would free up U.S. antitrust enforcers to focus on policing conduct that harms competition and consumers, including price gouging and collusion to suppress wages, he said.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is already causing a slowdown in global merger and acquisition activity.

The aggregate value of worldwide mergers and acquisition transactions totaled $730.5 billion during the first quarter of 2020, a 25 percent decrease from year-ago levels, according to financial market data provider Refinitiv. Deals involving U.S. targets in particular were collectively worth $256 billion, a 50 percent decline. 

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