Democrats lost control of the House but expanded their majority in the Senate, giving them more power to issue subpoenas that party senators say they plan to use to investigate price gouging and other inequities in American business.
Democratic committee and subcommittee chairs have said they plan to ask companies to provide more information about how they price prescription drugs, health insurance plans and other goods and services. the cost of which has skyrocketed in recent years.
They also plan to grill corporate executives during their private discussions about how to respond to climate change and how they use customers’ personal information.
And they will demand answers about companies’ efforts to tackle misinformation and inappropriate content aimed at minors on social media platforms.
“It will mean that our committees will have greater oversight capacity, subpoena power,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (NY) told reporters this week of the majority expansion. Democrat with 51 seats.
“Subpoena power can address corporate corruption and inequality and other issues across the country,” he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is expected to become the next chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he plans to launch investigations in several areas, focusing on what he says are rising prices in the pharmaceutical industry.
“We are working on our priorities right now, but it goes without saying that the committee has broad jurisdiction over health, labor, education and we are and will be prepared to take on very powerful special interests who are ripping off the American people. “, did he declare. said The Hill.
Sanders said he would have more power to dig up information about companies’ pricing practices and argued that Congress hasn’t done enough on the issue.
“We pay twice as much per capita as other countries for health care, we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. The oil companies are making record profits, ripping us off. So I think there’s a lot to look at in those areas,” he said.
Leading Liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said she was “still working through the list” of industries to investigate, adding that she had a “wide range.”
“We now have more monitoring tools,” she said. “We have less leeway to pass laws due to the loss of the House, but more precise tools of control in the Senate.”
Warren predicted that corporate CEOs will be more willing to comply with Democratic Senate requests for information, knowing they could otherwise face a subpoena and a day in court.
“Even when we politely ask CEOs and billionaires to come forward, everyone now knows that comes with the possibility of getting a subpoena,” she said.
The serious consequences of failing to comply with a congressional subpoena were underscored this summer when Trump adviser Stephen Bannon was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress for failing to appear at a testimony and refusing to produce documents, despite being subpoenaed.
He was sentenced to four months in prison.
In most Senate committees, the chairs and members of ranked minorities have the standing power to issue subpoenas, but they must use it jointly.
If a non-ranking member refuses to accept a chairperson’s subpoena request, a majority vote of the committee is required to issue a request for testimony or documents.
Under the current structure of the Senate, where the number of seats on each committee is evenly distributed, it has been very difficult for Democratic presidents to muster enough votes to overrule a ranking Republican member who balks at a subpoena. appear.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees, said members of his party have been “in a straitjacket” for the past two years due to limits posed by the Senate equally divided.
“We couldn’t even seriously think about using investigative tools,” he said.
This will change in January.
“We’re not just going to issue subpoenas willy-nilly without good cause because we want to maintain the credibility of the power and the process, and there may be challenges in court,” Blumenthal said.
“I anticipate it will be focused and strategic,” he said.
Blumenthal, who is set to become chairman of the Commerce panel’s consumer production and product safety subcommittee, said he conducted hearings on big tech companies spreading “toxic content” for children, but that he had no teeth to back up his questions.
“There was some cooperation from Big Tech companies, but we weren’t given access to the documents or even perhaps the key witnesses that we could have had through subpoena power,” he said. -he declares.
Blumenthal says he wants to take a closer look at what he called the “fiasco” of Ticketmaster’s sale of Taylor Swift tour tickets, when fans were deprived of the opportunity to purchase tickets, suffered various problems or had to wait for hours without getting anything. Some floor seats ended up being offered for upwards of $10,000 and even $20,000.
“This merger is under investigation or Ticketmaster is of the Department of Justice, but we have a responsibility to monitor potential misuse of monopoly power and abuses such as withholding tickets and selling to resellers “said Blumenthal, referring to the merger between Ticketmaster and Live. Nation Entertainment, Inc.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.), who is set to become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said he wants to investigate what energy companies are saying about climate change behind closed doors and how their Deliberations on private strategy could diverge radically. their company’s public message about trying to stem global warming.
“I think the Chamber has already done some good work on the oil and gas industry and got plenty of material showing the gap between the industry’s external voices and what they say when they talk to each other internally. . I think we can keep working on that for sure,” Whitehouse said.
“They talk green and when they think no one is listening, the true position of the industry emerges,” he said.
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