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Timothy J. Muris, President Bush’s pick as Federal Trade Commission chairman, appears headed for easy confirmation this month by the Senate Commerce Committee. At a hearing May 16, Muris received support from all the senators in attendance and faced few tough questions. Muris promised not to abandon antitrust enforcement, saying there is bipartisan consensus for using competition policy to keep markets free and vibrant. “Although there is disagreement at the margin, there is widespread agreement that the purpose of antitrust is to protect consumers; that economic analysis should guide case selection; and that horizontal cases, both mergers and agreements among competitors, are the mainstays of antitrust,” Muris said. The George Mason University professor also agreed to follow the government’s rules on conflicts of interest. That suggests that he will not participate in discussions of the merger between PepsiCo Inc. and Quaker Oats Co. because he has previously consulted the soda company. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain said a vote on the nomination could occur as early as next Thursday. That means the full Senate could confirm Muris before current FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky steps down in early June. “We will move on your nomination as quickly as possible,” said McCain, an Arizona Republican. “I’m confident we can move it before the Memorial Day recess.” Senators did not ask Muris a single question about merger policy during an appearance before the committee that lasted less than 30 minutes. The lack of interest in mergers was unusual for the Commerce Committee, whose members include Sens. Ernest Hollings, D- S.C., Ted Stevens, R-Ak., Ron Wyden, D-Or. and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., all of whom have been vocal on M&A activity and the perils of consolidation. Hollings did press Muris about his writings on the use of economic efficiencies in antitrust analysis. The theory revolves around the notion that some otherwise anticompetitive activities should be allowed if the efficiencies gained are large enough. “You are going to a consumer protection agency, not a monopoly protection agency,” Hollings said. Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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