There is nothing that upsets corporate and governmental bureaucrats more than an effective proposal on behalf of consumers.
So, expectedly, Gerald Ford, his golfing partners from the auto, steel and oil industries and dozens of trade associations in Washington are straining to stop the establishment of a tiny consumer protection agency to fight consumer abuses by business and its government allies.
THE FOCUS of this intensive lobbying effort is a bill that has been blocked by filibusters and special interest groups. This year, the consumer protection agency bill passed the Senate with 71 out of 100 votes The House will pass it in early November.
Since big business’ faithful servant, President Ford, probably will veto this fighter of inflation and bureaucracy, the stage will be set for a veto override effort in Congress.
The hypocrisy of the’ White House and its followers in Congress is without discernible limits. Mr Ford, a kind man who makes cruel decisions, says he wants to curtail bureaucracy and achieve regulatory reform.
But he rejects a consumer watchdog whose yearly budget is less than two hours’ expenditure of the Pentagon and whose mission is to reduce waste and make government respond to the Americans who pay all the bills — 200 million consumers.
With the abundant evidence of federal bureaucracies refusing to enforce the laws against unsafe drugs, food, autos and many other casualty-producing hazards, the White House prefers to go against sound proposals instead of proved lawlessness.
THE FACT that the national organizations of mayors, attorneys general and district attorneys, along with most governors, have repeatedly favored the bill, cuts no ice with the White House.
Nor do the urgings of some companies who have come out in support of the bill, despite enormous pressures by reactionary businessmen. Backing the CPA is Montgomery Ward, Polaroid, Connecticut General and other, smaller corporations.
Peter Jones, general counsel for Montgomery Ward, explained why consumers must be given a voice:
“To advance their interest business can go to the Commerce Department, farmers can go to the Agriculture Department, bankers can go to the Treasury Department. Why shouldn’t the American consumer have a separate government agency to look to to represent their interests in the councils of government?”
But Gerald Ford is not listening to Montgomery Ward. He is obeying instead the demands of Sears, Greyhound, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Proctor & Gamble. The detergent company’s lobbyist, Bryce Harlow, has been shuttling between Proctor & Gamble and the White House for the last seven years.
THE FOOD, drug, banking and oil industries (except for Mobil and Arco) also are fighting the legislation.
It is apparent why these companies do not want a consumer agency that can take their beloved protectorates, such as the Department of Transportation or the Food and Drug Administration, to court or challenge them before their own proceedings.
These corporations have Washington in tow. They do not want any agency to challenge the influence-peddling game, the sloppy secret decision-making , of government and the betrayal of public trust that cost citizens billions of dollars and many avoidable injuries each year,
Many of the companies opposing the consumer bill have a long record of violations and offenses, most of which have escaped law enforcement. For these corporate recidivists, a consumer agency would be unsettling.
This consumer protection agency bill (H.R. 7575 in the House of Representatives) is not a regulatory agency; it can only advocate consumer interests in health, safety and economic wellbeing before other government departments who so often hear only the business viewpoint.
Where these departments abuse their discretion or violate their laws, the consumer agency could go to court.
THE IDEA may catch on at the state government level. Recently California and New Jersey provided similar advocacy powers to small units within their executive branches.
But for the consumer’s voice to be heard inside government, consumers everywhere must speak up outside government so that their legislators cannot fail to hear them