Ford Bucks Consumer Protection Bill

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

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