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