Consumer Protection: It’s Up to You!

It would be reasonable to expect, given the Watergate scandal, spiraling inflation and general consumer dissatisfaction, that President Nixon would reverse his opposition to several consumer protection bills now pending before Congress. But he has not.

White House opposition to a consumer class action bill and other long overdue measures to help consumers gain justice in the marketplace remains steadfastly stubborn. But perhaps most astonishing is the repetition of the President’s negative approach to the consumer protection agency bill. This proposal would establish a consumer advocate within the federal government to promote consumer interests before the regulatory agencies whose decisions affect the health, safety, and pocketbooks of millions of consumers. Presently, these agencies are surrounded by corporate lobbyists who bring them to their knees time and time again,

In the Senate , the CPA bill ( S. 707) has the bipartisan support it needs to pass. But in the House the President has Chet Holifield, the chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, willing to back a weakened version that is a mere shadow of what is due consumers.

Always exuding consumer rhetoric, the White House in fact instructs its Congressional lobbyists to favor the big business interest of the Chamber of Commerce, the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the National Association of Manufacturers. Last month, a bitter opponent of the CPA bill, Bryce Harlow of Proctor and Gamble, joined the White House for the second time since 1969 as a special assistant to the President.Two and a half weeks ago, the President’s men revealed their hand in a letter to Senator Ribcioff from Frederic Malek, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Malek started out with the usual assertions of concern for the beleaguered consumer and then got to the point. The White House wanted the following sections dropped from the bill: (1) the proposed Council of Consumer Advisers; (2) a grant-in-aid program for states and local governments to assist them in establishing consumer action activities; (3) the “independence” provision of the agency to make it less subject to intrusive Presidential control; (4) authority to intervene in informal agency proceedĀ­ings which include most of the regulatory measures in areas such as food, drug, cosmetic, automobile, tire, meat, poultry and other product safety; and (5) authority to obtain information from corporations and disclose facts to the public. To Mr. Malek objects also to the definition of consumer abuses which the CPA would be allowed to tackle. He believes it is too broad.

At the same time, White House strategists, such as Melvin Laird and Roy Ash, are trying to throw key Republican Senators, such as Senators Percy and Javits, off balance by privately assuring them of their interest in strong consumer protection. The achilles heel in the Senate is Senator Ribicoff’s chief Subcommittee counsel, Robert Wager. The White House knows he is susceptible to concessions simply to get the bill to the Senate floor. Wager’s impatience is not diminished by his long standing desire to obtain a high level position in the new agency once it is established.

Fortunately, the CPA bill must come before the Senate Commerce Committee and Chairman Warren Magnuson. While the broadcasting industry has been promised an inexcusable exemption from the bill, it is likely that the Senator Magnuson will try to strengthen the legislation in other respects should it be weakened by the Senate Government Operations Committee.

S. 707, the consumer protection organization act of 1973, as it is called, requires the attention of consumers. Many members of Congress are willing to supply information for citizens about the need for such a skilled consumer watchdog in Washington. Ask them.

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