How New Biden Rules Could Make It Easier To Buy Hearing Aids Or Fix Your Phone
In a new executive order, President Biden aims to kickstart competition for consumers, workers and farmers in ways both big and small, starting with a list of 72 initiatives.
NOEL KING, HOST:
President Biden will issue an executive order today to promote competition across a bunch of industries, including farming, airlines, prescription drugs and Internet service providers. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid got an early look at the executive order and is with us now. Good morning, Asma.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: So this order is very consumer and worker-oriented.
KHALID: That's right. The White House believes that it'll lead to lower prices for consumers, better wages for employees and, eventually, more durable, long-term economic growth. The goal is to tilt markets more in favor of workers and consumers over big, powerful companies. And in total, it includes some 20 - 72 - I'm sorry - different initiatives. It really is an indication of how this White House is thinking about economic policy and its hopes for kicking off a new era of enforcement of antitrust laws.
KING: The aims are impressive. Among those 72 measures, what stood out to you?
KHALID: Well, the order directs the Federal Trade Commission to limit non-competes. Those prevent a lot of workers, you know, from quitting one job to go to a better one. I spoke with Jason Furman. He was a chair of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration. And he said some of these ideas might seem small. But collectively, they could really transform the economy. And the example he gave me was this part of the order that would enable more hearing aids to be sold at pharmacies instead of having to go through a doctor.
JASON FURMAN: There's no reason that hearing aids shouldn't be more like, you know, over-the-counter reading glasses. It's a lot of people who just can't believe how much they have to spend for these devices. They don't cost that much to make.
KHALID: And the order that the president is going to be signing today envisions a proposal for this in the next few months. There's also a nugget in the order about airline fees and issuing rules to require refunds if you say, you know, pay for a check bag and it ends up delayed.
KING: That would be nice. You mentioned we're getting some hints about how this administration thinks about antitrust. I would imagine a big part of this, then, is aimed at the tech sector.
KHALID: Exactly, quite a bit. I mean, I would say some of the more sweeping changes really do target the tech sector. You know, the White House wants Obama-era net neutrality rules to be restored. It's also indicating that it'll more closely scrutinize mergers in the tech sector, particularly when established players buy up new competitors and when those deals might affect consumer data and consumer privacy. Many of the directives would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, which is now led by Lina Khan. She's a high-profile critic of big tech companies.
KING: Thinking back to the last Democratic presidential administration, didn't the Obama White House try to get some of this done?
KHALID: You know, the White House says there was a nascent effort toward the end of the Obama administration to deal with some of these issues. But it takes a while to write rules. And frankly, some of those ideas didn't get off the ground. Some of them were also rolled back by the Trump administration. But by doing this in the first year of the Biden White House, you know, the president is signaling that it's a priority. And he's also creating time for agencies to write these rules. The White House is also launching a White House Competition Council to monitor progress on all these initiatives. I will say, though, Noel, really, the efficacy of all of this is going to come down to how the rules are written, how they're actually enforced and whether or not they're able to withstand legal challenges.
KING: NPR's Asma Khalid. Thank you, Asma.
KHALID: My pleasure.
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