OPINION: Is ‘Big Tech’ Regulation An Area Where Washington Will Agree?

Robert Graham Contributor
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A Democratic majority led by Nancy Pelosi has taken the reins in the U.S. House of Representatives, setting up what’s likely to be a boxing match with the Republican majority in the Senate and the Trump administration for at least the next two years.

It’s unclear what compromises, if any, will be forged between these disparate factions. However, when it comes to imposing new regulations on the internet, some conservatives and progressives seem to be making strange bedfellows.

Republicans including newly elected Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley have called for investigations into internet companies to determine if regulations are needed; President Trump expressed willingness to work with Nancy Pelosi on regulating social media; and conservative media personality Laura Ingraham went so far as to suggest that companies like Facebook and Twitter should be turned into public utilities.

This must be music to Democrats’ ears; in fact, Democrat Mark Warner is downright bullish that Republicans would support their efforts to regulate the internet.

Commonsense regulation of the internet may be important to ensure safety and protect individual liberties. However, conservatives should exercise caution before immediately jumping on the regulation train with progressives, especially when it comes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 allows users to generate content on internet platforms without those platforms being held legally responsible for that content (barring anything illegal). Targeting Section 230 would mean rolling back protections that allow platform users to exercise freedom of speech. It would also mean over-regulating an important sector of our economy, with the internet supporting millions of American jobs.

One only needs to look at past progressive regulatory efforts to see why it’s such a slippery slope.

Take healthcare, for instance. It’s clear that healthcare has been in desperate need of reform for quite some time, but Democratic lawmakers took over-regulation to the extreme when they passed the sprawling labyrinth of bureaucracy known as Obamacare.

This legislation — through its rules and fees and mandates and penalties — the opposite of its intended effects. According to an in-depth study by the Heritage Foundation, regulations included in Obamacare directly contributed to higher premiums for consumers. And the numbers are staggering — in some states, premiums rose by 100 percent or more. Further, the number of health insurance options for consumers diminished, with people in several states having only one available plan on the Obamacare exchange.

Healthcare isn’t the only industry that Democrats have over-regulated in recent years. Passed around the same time as Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform was a similarly convoluted web of regulation that caused more harm than good in the financial sector.

Dodd-Frank’s strict rules on anything from lending practices to debit-card swipe requirements placed a significant burden on small community banks that, according to Forbes, forced many to close and prevented others from opening. The loss of community banks in this country is one of the most lamentable developments in recent years, as relationship-based banking that helps people in rural areas is now increasingly top-down and impersonal, weighed down further by the dictates of Washington bureaucrats.

And how can we forget a frequent target of progressive overregulation: the energy sector. President Obama, with his imperial use of executive power, waged a regulatory assault on traditional energy sources that severely limited producers’ ability to generate efficient, cheap power, create jobs, and grow our economy.

A 2014 study found that Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency carbon emissions rules would “cost the economy $51 billion and eliminate 224,000 jobs each year through 2030. They will significantly raise energy prices, forcing U.S. consumers to pay $289 billion more for electricity through 2030.”

When you look at past regulatory efforts by Democrats — in healthcare, finance, and energy, to name a few examples — you will see a chilling pattern emerge: in the name of “fairness” and “consumer protection,” Democrats will inevitably use the heavy hand of big government to overregulate and exert more Washington control across the economy.

Thankfully, President Trump has done an excellent job in rolling back the burdensome regulations of his predecessor. He’s chipped away at Obamacare, he’s gutted Dodd-Frank, and he’s lifted onerous, unnecessary energy regulations — incredible achievements worth celebrating.

President Trump and Republicans in Congress should stand up to their Democrat counterparts before they set their sights on intermediary liability protections. The internet is something that nearly all of us use — for free expression, for doing business, for entertainment. It also makes up 6 percent of U.S. GDP. If overregulated, the health of the digital marketplace could be severely, even irreparably, damaged.

Robert Graham is a former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and served as a senior advisor to the Donald J. Trump campaign in 2016.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.