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Senate panel advances FTC nominee McSweeny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate panel voted on Tuesday to advance the nomination of Terrell McSweeny, currently with the Department of Justice, to be the third Democratic commissioner on the five-member Federal Trade Commission.

McSweeny, nominated in June, is a former domestic policy advisor to Vice President Joe Biden and now chief counsel for competition policy at the Justice Department's antitrust division.

If confirmed, as expected, McSweeny would give Democrats a majority on the FTC, which works with the Justice Department to enforce antitrust law and investigates allegations of deceptive advertising, among other things.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved McSweeny, and several other nominees, on a voice vote. No date has been set for a vote by the full Senate.

The FTC is chaired by Edith Ramirez, a Democrat and a law school classmate of President Barack Obama. The other Democrat is Julie Brill. Rounding out the group are Republicans Maureen Ohlhausen and Joshua Wright.

Because of the vacancy, there has been concern about deadlocks leading to inaction on pending mergers. In the case of a 2-2 vote by commissioners, the FTC takes no action.

The commission is currently considering several big mergers, including those of grocery chains Kroger and Harris Teeter; funeral home companies Service Corp International and Stewart Enterprises; and Fidelity National Financial and Lender Processing Services.

The agency is also pursuing the issue of "patent trolls," companies which assemble portfolios of weak or expired patents and then sue large numbers of companies for infringement. It also works on online privacy issues, which can pit companies against consumers.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)

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