Yesterday evening, while most of America was consumed by issues of marriage equality, another important action slipped by without much notice. In response to an announcement made last October by the Justice Department to close four of its antitrust field offices, Rep. John Lewis with Rep. Hank Johnson offered an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2013 that would have kept the DOJ from using funds to close the offices in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Dallas.
The move was described by DOJ as a cost saving measure to comply with the President's mandate to cut spending across the federal government. The closures would save the department over $8 million annually, but in Atlanta alone DOJ has collected more than $265.5 million in the last 11 years due to successful pursuit of antitrust cases. Rep. Lewis felt the logic of closure was flawed.
"This decision seems pennywise and pound foolish," said Rep. John Lewis. "The impact of antitrust violations stretches across the lives of all Americans," said Rep. John Lewis. "They affect the quality and availability of goods and services, the prices of staple products, like computer equipment, software, telephone service, and food. They reduce the impact of market forces on big businesses that in turn lessens the power of the consumer to influence the marketplace. Aside from these very pervasive effects, collecting fines and restitution can add millions to the federal Treasury, which helps defray the need to raise more revenue from taxes. The federal government is the only force with any chance to take a stand against huge, multinational conglomerates. Closing these federal offices weakens the power of the government to defend the rights of the people. That is why I offered this amendment."
The amendment did not pass simply because the committee opposed all "limitation" amendments. However, Chairman Frank Wolf of the House Appropriations Committee Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee offered to bring the Justice Department together with individuals who opposed these closures, including Rep. Lewis, next week to discuss possibilities for relief. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) a member of the Appropriations Committee, also spoke about his concern related to these closures.