Put the Cameras on the Congress

On the morning of Nov. 6, prior to final House of Representatives debate on the Consumer Protection Bill (H.R. 7575), two White House agents sat in the of­fice of Congressman Pete McCloskey, R-Calif.
THEY WERE trying to persuade McCloskey to drop his amendment to the bill that would have consoli­dated consumer advocacy efforts in the proposed agency.

Vernon Lone, deputy as­sistant to President Ford, and James Cavanaugh of the White House Domestic Council argued that McCloskey’s amendment would build more support for the bill, which the Presi­dent has been saying he would veto. McCloskey re­fused.

As the two men were leaving the office, one of them turned to the con­gressman and said, “If this amendment isn’t offered, the President might cam­paign for you.” McCloskey, a stubborn ex-marine, still refused.

A few hours later his amendment passed. The Consumer Protection Bill also passed, but not before a business-indentured per­formance was conducted by opponents of this landmark legislation.

IF THERE was any fur­ther doubt of the need occa­sionally to televise congressional debates — a practice still prohibited by the lawmakers — it was dis­pelled by the radical reac­tionaries that day.

There was the haughty John Erlenborn, R-Ill., fighting at every opportuni­ty the bill’s mission to advo­cate consumer interests in health, safety and economic well-being. Erlenborn was active for hours on end, un­like other days when he calmly votes for billions of dollars in subsidies, tax loopholes and inflated con­tracts for big business.

The man’s demonstrated insensitivity to proven con­sumer suffering from injuri­ous products and services, such as drugs and flamma­ble fabrics, would freeze a salmon in the north Pacific.
Aiding him was John Wy­dler, R-N.Y., who arrogant­ly turned his back on con­sumers in his Long Island district. Mouthing the lines of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corpo­rate giants such as GM, Ford, Proctor & Gamble, Greyhound and Sears, Wylder showed that he didn’t even understand what the bill was about, except that it would help consumers. He had his marching orders.

LAST YEAR when Watergate hung over the Republicans in the Con­gress, many voted for the consumer protection bill to help them survive the elec­tions.

Now, under Gerald Ford, who smiles at consumers as he does them in daily, 76 House Republicans switch­ed and voted against the consumer legislation.

Big business lobbyists were everywhere — pres­suring, cajoling and holding out the inducement of irre­sistible campaign contribu­tions.

This was one bill the corporations had to block; they could not afford a lean, effective agency lifting the lid off their cushy dealings with Uncle Sugar and tak­ing the government officials to court.
Some Democrats were not much better. Don Fuqua, D-Fla., talked about his concern for consumer rights out of one side of his mouth and proceeded to de­clare “no” against the bill out of the other.

Shifty liberal Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., also voted “no” without contributing any justification for his position. He simply regurgi­tated the slogans extruded by the trade associations.

He also infuriated some of his union supporters who were backing the consumer bill as well as those constit­uents who promised to re­mind him at the polls.

THE NIGHT before the final vote, a majority of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee voted another tax loophole which would give a $15-million benefit to just one Texas ty­coon, H. Ross Perot, who happened to have contrib­uted to the campaigns of about a dozen committee members.

The next day these mem­bers moved to the House floor and voted against a $10 million-a-year consumer protection bill on economic grounds.

Television coverage of these byplays in committee and House floor delibera­tions, responsibly edited for program size, would inform Americans quickly of what their representatives are really doing in Washington compared to the sweet talk they dispense back home.

For the consumer bill, permitting radio and televi­sion coverage might have made it unlikely for Gerald Ford to do what Henry Ford wants him to do — veto the rights of the U.S. consumer

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