American Culture

The Bush administration's waging war on consumer safety–and we're fighting back

By Martin Bosworth

Safe products are one of those things it’s hard to create any kind of meaningful opposition against. You can argue (rightly or wrongly) about the Iraq war, or changing immigration law, or universal health insurance–but who can honestly say they oppose ensuring that our kids’ toys are safe to play with, that our food is safe to eat, and that our everyday products are safe to use?

Well, apparently, the Bush regime can, if the actions of current Consumer Product Safety Commission head Nancy Nord are any indication.

Nord is on record as opposing new legislation that would increase her agency’s budget, improve its oversight and enforcement powers, and strengthen penalties for companies that sell recalled or dangerous products. That’s such a Bizarro World stance that I have to say it again–Congress wants to beef up an agency that has been crippled by budget cuts and indolent, corrupt leadership, and the agency head is against it.

Thankfully, the Senate has chosen to ignore her opposition, and the Commerce Committee unanimously passed the Consumer Product Safety Act of 2007 yesterday, with the next step being a full vote in the Senate. Similar legislation is on its way in the House, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday called for Nord to step down:

“In a letter just last week, the chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Nancy Nord, said she was opposed to increasing the agency’s funding or authority. One person assigned to testing toys to ensure that they are safe, and the Chairman of the Commission saying she is opposed to expanding the authority or the funding.

“That is not what American parents want to hear. They want to know that we are doing all we can to ensure that safe toys, safe food, and safe medicine are available for our children.”

Yesterday the Campaign For America’s Future published a new report tracing the parallel courses of American business’ increased reliance on overseas product manufacturing, and the evisceration of regulations and oversight to protect consumers and ensure product safety. The report paints a chilling picture of how the Reagan administration began killing the CPSC through the death of a thousand budget cuts, even as our country’s manufacturing base disappeared and was sent overseas in the name of low prices. The end result? Crappy, unsafe toys and products that endanger our kids and ourselves.

I covered the report’s release in a conference call that included Senator Sherrod Brown (co-sponsor of the Senate bill), Representative Rosa DeLauro (co-sponsor of the House legislation), David Sirota, CAF co-chair Robert Borosage, and Marilyn Furer, who provided a poignant “ordinary Jane” perspective on how unsafe toys and products can cause lasting harm to children. Furer told stories of how she tested her own grandchildren’s toys for lead contamination and how aghast she was that an important agency such as the CPSC was left to be run by political hacks appointed by the President, while Brown and DeLauro angrily reiterated calls for Nord’s resignation.

But the problem goes back further and deeper than Nord–Nord only stepped in because Bush’s original pick, Michael Baroody, was such an outspoken opponent of consumers’ rights that the Senate wouldn’t even touch him. And Baroody, in turn, was originally slotted to succeed Hal Stratton, who was largely keeping the seat warm while waiting to find a more lucrative private-sector job. And all of this is symptomatic of the Bush regime’s utter lack of concern for the safety and security of the people it’s spending billions in a pointless war to protect.

There’s nothing more immediate and looming in the minds of the middle class than ensuring their children are safe. And while we continue to foment hysteria about al-Qaeda lurking in the bushes or Iran suddenly nuking us all from orbit, our children are under assault from a barrage of dangerous, unsafe products that can harm or even kill–and that’s even before addressing the recalls of foods too dangerous for humans or pets to eat! Any smart Democrat will jump right on this issue and make it a wedge for a campaign–because just like Bush and the Republicans demonstrated with SCHIP, the war on consumer safety is a clear sign that in Bush’s America, you’re on your own, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

And our families deserve better than that.

8 replies »

  1. Thank you, Martin for another amazing piece.

    Funny…Nord was previously a lawyer and Director of Federal Affairs for Kodak – a company that was eviscerated and outsourced to near oblivion. (Don’t even ask about their environmental record).

  2. Martin,

    I respectfully disagree with you. You would have us believe that it’s a good idea to raise our taxes by spending more money on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an ineffective bloated bureaucracy with a 63 Million dollar budget, 470 employees, and as Nancy Pelosi points out – one person assigned to safety testing toys. It’s naive to think that throwing more money at this will some how make them more effective. There is a saying for that and it’s called “throwing good money after bad”. A better plan would be to disband the Consumer Product Safety Commission and place the burden of product safety where it belongs. Require that goods coming in to the US be certified safe by both the manufacturer and the import company. Then base China’s import tariff on their safety record. For every product that comes over that breaks our safety regulations, the tariff for all incoming products from China goes up. That would put huge pressures on manufactures in China and the Chinese government to self regulate. Thinking that you are gaining some sort of security by trying to funnel the testing of products through the ‘Consumer Product Safety Commission’ is just plain stupid. I saw that this issue is pushing through a budget expansion to $143 Million dollars. So, if a 63 Million dollar budget bought us one person to test all the toys for safety coming in to the US, does that mean that we will now be able to pay for 2.3 people safety test the flow of toys from China?

    Geoff M.

  3. Ummm, Geoff? How are we to know if those toys coming in (you know, the “certified safe” ones) are actually safe? Seems to me like that’s going to require you to, you know, pay to hire testers.

  4. Dr. Slammy,
    I wouldn’t recommend hiring anyone. I would recommend the testing be done outside of government. Offer a reward for finding products in the market place that break the safety rules. Make that reward payable by the offenders.
    You have to ask yourself if, buy inflating the government, you are buying yourself more security or a false sense of security. Look at FEMA as a prime example, are they doing a better job now in California post New Orleans? The same is true with the CPSC. You couldn’t hire enough testers to test all the products coming in from outside our borders, and if you could, you wouldn’t want them working for the government. Thinking that a largely ineffectual and inefficient governmental agency is going make you safe is sadly naive. I agree that there is a problem and I too want to see safe products coming in to our country, but I know that throwing more money at the CPSC isn’t going to be the solution. They haven’t been the solution in the past and they won’t in the future.
    Geoff M.

  5. I’d like to add one more point to this discussion. I would also argue that the thinking espoused in Martin’s article and shared by those in congress begets the root of the problem. I would argue that one of the reasons we are net manufacturing importers in this country is due to our rapidly expanding bureaucratic government. We have created an atmosphere in this country that is hostile to business so it makes more sense for businesses to invest outside our borders.
    The way to solve these problems is to scale back government and offer economic incentives to businesses to do the right thing (give them tax incentives for doing the right thing and penelties for doing the wrong thing.) Also we need consumer groups to do the monitoring. Consider the Better Business Bureau. They do a much better job that any government agency I can think of. I would propose to you that, instead of complaining about what a bad job our government is doing, that you get personally involved with a consumer group or start one yourself if this is an issue that you feel strongly about. Do something about it, but don’t tell me that I should pay more in taxes to support something that doesn’t work.
    Geoff M.

  6. Geoff,

    The problem is that the massive outbreaks in recalls, tainted food, and product defects comes from the precise notion you cite–that industry regulates itself. It does not.

    The entire reason why these industries are profitable now is because they have offshored their production and supply to nations that have no comparable regulatory and health standards to our own. When the products are manufactured completely outside the U.S, and the regulatory authority designed to oversee them is crippled into utter inefficiency, is it any wonder why this happens?

    I’m completely in favor of authorizing consumer groups to act as third-party testers and regulators on product safety. That’s absolutely the right of it. But it has to work hand in hand with governmental law that enforces penalties for those who cut corners.

    Would you rather pay taxes to ensure your kids are safe or for a boondoggle like Iraq? I know what I pick.

  7. Martin,
    I agree with you that there is a huge problem with recalls, tainted food, and defective products from China. That isn’t even mentioning the problem of drugs coming from China. If you really want to start to worry, read about that. (Which the FDA is supposed to be protecting us from.) The Washington Post has a good article here:

    Let’s take a look at this from a different perspective. Playing devils advocate here. Ok, so we more than double the CSPC’s budget. Now what? Tell me what the CSPC is going to do to fix the problem. Truth is: nothing. Only thing you will get for your money is a false sense of security. Congress gets to pat themselves on the back and the American people get to go back to watching American Idol on TV feeling snuggly that the CSPC is on the case, when in fact creating large bureaucracies are actually counter productive. All of our problems actually come full circle to big government. We are in Iraq due to big government. Thanks to the Federal Reserve and reckless spending we need to have a way to prop up our dollar that isn’t really very valuable in the sense of a sound hard currency. How do we do that? We go to war with countries that would attempt to undermine one of the major stabilizing instruments of our currency: the Petrodollar. If we had sensible monetary policy and smaller government we wouldn’t be in Iraq in the first place and we wouldn’t need to import everything from China because it would make economic sense to do it here.

  8. Geoff,

    I think we agree on the larger issue at hand, but we disagree on the means to solve it. It’s not that *big* government is the problem, per se–but *wasteful* government. A government that spends billions of tax dollars on contracting companies that overcharge for every little thing, while scrimping on the budgets for its agencies and facilities, is big, but is it accomplishing anything?

    I don’t know if you’ve ever actually worked for the government. I have. Let me tell you, you’ll be changing your tune after you see some of the crappy, decrepit, substandard buildings and equipment people are forced to do their jobs with and in. The money that’s being spent to build a petrodollar empire in Iraq could be spent paying government employees decent salaries and upgrading their facilities to the 21st Century.

    I think that rather than simply cutting budgets, the public would be better served with much more aggressive oversight of gov’t spending and redirecting money away from earmarks and cushy pet projects to where it’s supposed to be–doing the work of the people.