In the closing days of the 92nd Congress, President Nixon unleashed a virulent, anti-consumer lobbying effort which succeeded in defeating or blocking major consumer protection legislation. All lip service to consumer interests in health, safety, and dollar value in the market place was swept aside as White House operatives lobbied along with corporate interests to defeat the Consumer Protection bill in the Senate.
Backed by a group of Democratic and Republican senators, the bill would have set up a non-bureaucratic, low budget agency to push consumer rights often ignored or overridden by other federal regulatory agencies coddling business interests. As an example, the consumer agency would participate or challenge agency proceedings and decisions which give consumers short shrift in such areas as utility and telephone rate increases, and drug, auto and flammable fabric hazards. The proposed agency would not regulate any industry; it would just represent the consumer, whose voice is so little heard by agencies and the courts.
The House of Representatives passed a weakened version of the bill last fall and the White House reluctantly endorsed it. But when the White House saw an opportunity to direct a filibuster against the bill on the Senate floor in late September, Mr. Nixon’s aides, Wallace Johnson and Tom Korologos huddled with industry lobbyists to block the bill completely. Working closely with Bryce Harlow of Procter & Gamble, a former Nixon White House special assistant, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Johnson and Korologos drove their limousine up to the Senate day after day to orchestrate their defeat of the bill, with the particular assistance of Senator Edward Gurney, Republican, of Florida.
Three times, Senators Ribicoff, Percy and Javits moved to stop the filibuster and three times the White House narrowly mustered the more than one-third vote needed to continue it. Within a week of Senate adjournment, Senator Percy sent feelers to the White House asking whether President Nixon would accept a bill identical to the House version which had received White House approval. He was abruptly turned down.
Where was Virginia Knauer, the supposed consumer advisor to Mr. Nixon, during this time? Out around the country campaigning for the President at the taxpayers’ expense! She had long ago surrendered her job to the industry-indentured aides in the White House who have been the architects of anti-consumer policies.
Other consumer bills were also blocked by President Nixon during the past session of Congress. These included 1) a consumer class action bill to allow consumers to sue as a group against a seller or manufacturer who defrauded them all in the same way; 2) a bill to provide the FTC with long-overdue authority to issue preliminary injunctions and assess damages to obtain refunds for cheated consumers; 3) legislation to give consumers greater assurance that warranties and guarantees on products are backed up by the manufacturers and not used to reduce the consumers’ rights.
In the midst of this Congressional drive for consumer justice, the White House has established itself as a super jockey for reactionary big business interests. Even when Montgomery Ward, the giant retailer, came out publicly in favor of the bill in September, the White House refused to withdraw its opposition. Procter & Gamble, Sears Roebuck and J.C. Penney, active lobbyists against the bill, refused to join Montgomery Ward even after several concessions in the bill were made.
Indicative of President Nixon’s political manipulation in an election year, he sent a bill up two and a half weeks ago to prohibit television blackouts of professional football games where the team plays in its home town. He exhorted Congress to pass this bill immediately. But when it came to taking a stand for measures which would protect the health and safety and pocketbooks of American consumers, the President sat on the sidelines directing the opposition.