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Industry and Republican Allies Gear up to Fight Moderate Consumer Health and Safety Bill

by David Arkush and Graham Steele

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate recently spent weeks negotiating a moderate, bipartisan consumer product safety bill, the “CPSC [Consumer Product Safety Commission] Reform Act of 2007” (S. 2663). After these negotiations concluded, and with the bill cued go to the Senate floor soon, industry is making a last-ditch effort to derail or further weaken it. This week, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) and a few other Senate Republicans, apparently playing the role of mouthpiece for industry, circulated a strategy packet for defeating the CPSC bill. The packet includes a list of “Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the CPSC ‘Reform’ Act,” which is riddled with misstatements about the bill. Apparently, industry knows it can’t win an honest debate against an important consumer safety law, so it’s going dirty.

Consumer safety is a serious issue, worthy of an honest and fair debate. Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) had that discussion and, with input from their fellow Senators, constituents, industry, and consumer groups, they arrived at a bipartisan compromise. The bill doesn’t give any stakeholder everything it wants -- we certainly urge that the bill be strengthened -- but it makes real improvements to current law. For example, the bill increases the CPSC's budget and staff (which are currently at about half their original levels), adds whistleblower protection, creates a public database of consumer complaints like NHTSA’s, increases penalties for violations, and permits state attorneys general to bring enforcement actions to supplement the CPSC’s notoriously lax enforcement.

At the same time, industry already has succeeded in blocking and diminishing the effectiveness of many important provisions. For example, the bill’s civil-penalty cap was slashed from $100 million to $10 million (or $20 million in “aggravated” circumstances). This number is grossly inadequate to deter companies from ignoring their legal duty to report potential hazards to the CPSC. Manufacturers and retailers have a strong financial incentive to violate the reporting laws because disclosing a hazard can provoke a costly recall. Recalls can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. To save that kind of money, it makes sense to risk a $10 or $20 million fine. This kind of gaming the system leaves the public dangerously in the dark about potentially deadly risks.

Similarly, although the bill gives state attorneys general the power to enforce federal law, industry has succeeded in limiting them to seeking only injunctive relief, not fines. Suffice it to say, industry is getting plenty of what it wants in this bill.

Senators should know that the DeMint strategy -- and especially the top ten list -- is a flimsy hit job. Arguing against a moderate, bipartisan consumer safety bill is bad policy, and bad politics. Do so at your own peril.

We are following this bill closely and plan to blog more about industry’s attempts to weaken and block it, so stay tuned. In the meantime, you can learn more about the legislation here.


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Paul Silver

Can you post the top ten list and explain why they are invalid? Also please post links to email a persuasive message to our legislators.

Daniel De Bonis

You can read the industry's "Top Ten" reasons to oppose the CPSC reform bill and our rebuttal here: http://www.citizen.org/congress/civjus/prod_liability/articles.cfm?ID=17565

Also, you can use this page to write you senators demanding they pass a strong CPSC reform bill: http://action.citizen.org/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=22737

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