White House says scrapped Aon-Willis deal shows 'robust enforcement'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday praised the Justice Department's successful effort to stop a $30 billion deal that would have created the world's biggest insurance broker, saying the agency's work was "robust enforcement of the antitrust laws."

Aon Plc (AON) and Willis Towers Watson Plc called off their merger on Monday, saying U.S. regulators' objections created unacceptable delay and uncertainty. The Justice Department had filed a lawsuit to stop it.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki praised the Justice Department, saying its effort was "what the president was talking about when he called for more robust enforcement of the antitrust laws."

President Joe Biden has taken more interest in antitrust than most presidents, and named one progressive antitrust expert to work in the White House and others to head the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department's Antitrust Division.

He also signed a sweeping competition executive order urging agencies to crack down on anti-competitive practices in sectors ranging from agriculture to pharmaceuticals and labor.

Rising prices have struck areas as diverse as lumber, labor, gasoline and fast food, a politically sensitive issue for an administration trying to engineer a recovery from the -19 recession. It has positioned antitrust policies as one tool to contain inflation.

Aon declined to comment on Psaki's statements but referred to a previous statement in which it said that the Justice Department's challenge was "in contrast" to antitrust enforcers elsewhere. "The DOJ's (Justice Department's) perspective demonstrates a misunderstanding of the marketplace and our combination was blocked by poor timing and factors ultimately outside our control," the company said in a public statement this week.

For her part, Psaki said that the deal would have raised prices for many American businesses that hire brokers for insurance and benefit packages. "Those higher insurance costs would ultimately have led Americans to pay more for all kinds of products and services," she said.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt; writing by Diane Bartz; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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