Monday, February 12, 2007

Senate Antitrust Subcommittee Sets Active Agenda for 2007

This posting was written by Darius Sturmer, editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

The Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition, and Consumer Rights plans an active agenda of hearings and legislation in 2007, according to Subcommittee Chair Herb Kohl (Wisconsin) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (Utah).

The Subcommittee expects to scrutinize closely the antitrust enforcement activities of both the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, including holding an antitrust oversight hearing. It will review the recommendations for antitrust law reform contained in the Antitrust Modernization Commission’s anticipated April 2007 report, including whether any legislation is necessary to implement meritorious recommendations in the report.

According to Senators Kohl and Hatch, the Subcommittee also plans to address issues in the pharmaceutical industry, the gas and oil markets, the airline industry, railroad industry, telecommunications industry, media sector, agricultural markets, health care, and international markets.

One particular focus will be eliminating barriers to the entry of generic competition to brand name drugs. To this end, Senator Kohl intends to pursue legislation to ban “reverse payment” patent settlements, in which brand name drug manufacturers pay off generic makers to forestall the introduction of those generics into the marketplace.

Other features of the agenda will include (1) close examination of the likely competitive effects of several proposed airline mergers; (2) the investigation of dominant railroad shippers’ practices; (3) advocacy of proposed changes to the Telecommunications Act to promote competition and to consider ways the Justice Department can play a role in protecting that competition; (4) examination of the need to renew the program access law so that all cable and satellite providers will have access to programming necessary to compete effectively; (5) scrutiny of agricultural consolidation; (6) evaluation of whether hospital group purchasing organizations operate as intended to lower costs for hospitals, caregivers, and patients; and (7) close consideration of how U.S. multinational companies have been affected by difference antitrust regimes in various countries.

Finally, the Subcommittee will examine whether legislation would be advisable in the area of industry standards and the standard-setting, in view of recent controversies over the competitive effects of such standards.

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