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Another Democrat in the U.S. Congress is sounding alarms about the Amazon-Whole Foods deal

Rep. David Cicilline, the leading Democrat on the House’s antitrust committee, is asking for a hearing.

Asa Mathat

Another member of Congress is urging fellow lawmakers to take a closer look at Amazon and its $14 billion bid to buy Whole Foods.

As the Trump administration prepares to review the merger, the top Democrat on the House’s leading competition committee is pushing for a hearing, arguing that Amazon’s newest gambit in the grocery business — and its continued attempts to supercharge its same-day delivery services — could present new threats to its competitors.

In a letter to the panel’s Republican chiefs — who set the committee’s hearing schedule — Rep. David Cicilline said the deal “raises important questions concerning competition policy, such as how the transaction will affect the future of retail grocery stores, whether platform dominance impedes innovation, and if the antitrust laws are working effectively to ensure economic opportunity, choice, and low prices for American families.”

For one thing, Cicilline pointed to the stock market, where grocers took a thrashing immediately after Amazon announced its merger plans. The congressman also highlighted the merger’s effects on Blue Apron, which slashed the value of its own public offering following the news.

More generally, the Democratic lawmaker expressed fears the deal might “increase Amazon’s online dominance, enabling it to prioritize its products and services over competitors.” And Cicilline said that might come in the form of the data Amazon collects from customers, which he said “may increase the risk of self-dealing or enable Amazon to leverage its platform over other businesses.”

Cicilline took care to stress he wasn’t “taking a position on the legality” of Amazon’s attempt to purchase Whole Foods, and even cited some favorable analysis by top antitrust professors that showed it might prove beneficial for consumers.

But his letter continues a slow, steady push for Congress to take a closer look at the $14 billion deal. Earlier this month, another prominent Democrat — the tech-backed Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents a broad swath of Silicon Valley — expressed fears that Amazon’s plans would “put pressure” on local businesses.

"The main problem is it is going to hurt local grocery stores," he told CNBC.

A spokesman for Amazon declined comment.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees competition issues, said it had no hearing scheduled at this time. A spokesman for the GOP leader on the Senate’s version of the panel declined comment.

Nevertheless, other Democrats have defended the merger, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who was asked about it on Twitter earlier this week.

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