Biden widens war on junk fees, says US consumers tired of being treated as ‘suckers’

By Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House on Wednesday expanded its war on junk fees to the rental housing market, announced a crackdown on price-fixing in food and agricultural markets, and unveiled draft merger guidelines as part of an ongoing push to aid U.S. consumers.

President Joe Biden, who has made attacks on corporate greed and power a centerpiece of his presidency, explained the government’s latest actions at the fifth meeting of his 18-agency Competition Council at the White House on Wednesday.

“It’s about basic fairness,” he told Cabinet members and other council members, underscoring the need to continue driving down inflation. “Folks are tired of being played for suckers.”

The new measures came near the second anniversary of a Biden executive order creating the council and a government-wide attack on anti-competitive practices. It has already taken aim at meatpacking, ocean shipping and consumer junk fees.

The White House said four decades of “misguided economic philosophy” had resulted in rising concentration in three-fourths of U.S. industries, costing the median U.S. household up to $5,000 a year in higher prices and lower wages.

“We cannot accept bad mergers that lead to mass layoffs, higher prices and fewer options for workers and consumers,” Biden said. “I’ve said before, capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation.”

Hannah Garden Monheit, the new director of Competition Council Policy at the National Economic Council, told Reuters the administration would “use all the tools that we have” to curb anti-competitive practices.

While the junk fee crackdown has found strong bipartisan and public support, industry has chafed at the increased oversight, accusing the Biden administration of “regulatory overreach.”

Sean Heather, a senior official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said industry agreed that transparency was critical, but didn’t want to see overly prescriptive rules for junk fees or mergers, and said government data showed the U.S. economy was no more concentrated now than it was two decades ago.

Morgan Harper, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official, welcomed Bid en’s drive for more competition and said it would help smaller firms and entrepreneurs.

“We don’t really have a competitive marketplace unless we have strong government enforcement,” Harper, now at the American Economic Liberties Project, said. “Concentration issues all over the economy are hurting workers, they’re hurting small businesses, and they’re hurting consumers.”


Biden said three of the largest rental housing platforms – Zillow, and – had agreed to disclose total, upfront data on rental costs such as application fees that can run to $100 or more per application, and “convenience fees” sometimes charged for paying rent online or disposing of trash.

A senior official said the move would not lower fees on its own, but increased transparency should cut them down by giving tens of millions of renters a chance to comparison-shop.

Biden has repeatedly called for federal agencies, Congress and private companies to address surprise fees that can jack up consumers’ cost by 20%. Three of the biggest airlines have already agreed to scrap fees for children to sit with parents.

Other actions announced Wednesday included draft merger guidelines that pave the way for tougher scrutiny of planned mergers by Big Tech companies like and Alphabet’s Google.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren hailed the guidelines as a sea change after four decades of lax antitrust enforcement. “Giant corporations and their armies of lobbyists will cry foul at the prospect of more competition, but this action by the Biden administration is welcome news for American small businesses, workers, and consumers,” she said in a statement.

One senior official said the goal was to eliminate “various blind spots” that had contributed to consolidation, noting that the Federal Trade Commission had received over 5,000 comments as it was shaping the new guidelines.

The White House also announced moves by the Department of Agriculture, joined by 31 states and Washington, D.C., to target price fixing and other anticompetitive behavior in highly consolidated food and agriculture sectors.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; additional reporting by Diane Bartz and Leah Douglas; Editing by Leslie Adler, Heather Timmons, Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)