President Biden on Friday afternoon signed a sprawling executive order designed to promote competition in the U.S. economy, urging federal agencies to take a broad range of actions such as more closely scrutinizing Big Tech, allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter and lowering the price of prescription drugs.
"The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: Open and fair competition," Biden said in remarks at the White House, shortly before signing the order. "That means if your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have got to up their game. Better prices and services, better ideas and products. The competition keeps the economy moving and it keeps it growing. A competitive economy must mean that companies do everything they can to compete for workers."
Comprised of 72 actions and recommendations, the order is intended to spur competition and improve labor practices across a range of industries including tech, health care, agriculture, transportation, and financial services, according to a White House fact sheet.
The White House said it "will lower prices for families, increase wages for workers, and promote innovation and even faster economic growth," with a broad range of actions, including urging the Federal Trade Commission to "challenge prior bad mergers," ban or limit non-compete agreements and occupational licensing requirements; restore net neutrality laws; and establish rules on surveillance and the collection of data by Big Tech.
The new directive also asked the FTC to prevent internet service providers from striking deal with landlords that limit tenants' choices, which the White House said can prevent broadband infrastructure expansion by new providers.
On top of that, the order seeks to lower prescription drug prices by supporting state and tribal efforts to import cheaper drugs from Canada and allowing hearing aids to be sold over the counter at drug stores.
"Let me be very clear: Capitalism without competition isn't capitalism. It's exploitation," Biden said. "Without healthy competition, big players can change and charge whatever they want and treat you however they want. And for too many Americans that means accepting a bad deal for things you can't go without. So, we know we've got a problem, a major problem. But we also have an incredible opportunity."
Higher prices and lower wages caused by the lack of competition cost the median American household $5,000 per year, according to an American Economic Liberties Project study cited by the White House.
Progressive lawmakers celebrated the executive order, while business groups and Republicans slammed it.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a fierce consumer advocate, lauded the executive order as a "critical" step to protect working-class Americans and urged Congress to pass legislation codifying the measure into law.
"President Biden's executive order takes critical steps to protect consumers and workers, strengthen antitrust enforcement, and tackle consolidation and anticompetitive practices across sectors," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement. "Next, Congress must pass new legislation to strengthen the federal agencies responsible for enforcement and outlaw the anticompetitive practices plaguing our markets today."
But the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a blistering statement that the directive "smacks of a 'government knows best' approach to managing the economy" and vowed to "vigorously oppose calls for government-set prices, onerous and legally questionable rulemakings, efforts to treat innovative industries as public utilities, and the politicization of antitrust enforcement."