Sunday, December 13, 2009

CPSIA - Still Steaming Over Mr. Waxman and His Unilateral CPSIA Amendment

I am still trying to unpack what happened late Friday when the Waxman amendment to the CPSIA leaked out. Since the news is so fresh and so few of the actors have come forward to account for themselves, let's be conservative and analyze only the most positive possible scenario:
  • Mr. Waxman now accepts that some aspects of the CPSIA need to be fixed.
  • Mr. Waxman now accepts that the CPSC cannot fix the law through rulemaking alone.
  • Mr. Waxman is being a "good guy" and showing his "good faith" by allowing a change to the law.
  • Ms. Tenenbaum believed that something is better than nothing and made a practical judgment to support the Waxman amendment as a step in the right direction.
  • Ms. Tenenbaum concluded that fighting with Ms. Waxman might worsen the situation for the agency and for the victims of the law.
  • Ms. Tenenbaum thought that getting an amendment now might open the door to more amendments later.
  • Ms. Tenenbaum thought the Commission could use this "loophole" to ease pressure on at least some victims of the law.
  • None of this affects the good vibrations that emerged in recent weeks with the CPSC who has noticeably softened its rhetoric and reached out to the regulated community to find amicable solutions to the perplexing issues caused by the CPSIA.

I think that's about as sympathetic a portrayal as I can paint of the Waxman amendment and the way it was generated. With that sunny scenario in mind, how would I now interpret the events?

  1. Waxman is in control, and will not relent. Both minority members of Congress and minority Commissioners have been largely disenfranchised for the future of this law. His need for control made impossible redress of the many other issues documented by the likes of resale shops, education companies and apparel-makers.
  2. Waxman will dictate precisely the speed and dimension of fixes to the CPSIA. The pain and disruption in the market does not influence him. As the terms of the original law indicate, he does not regard economics as a factor in setting safety policy. [An economist would characterize this outlook as irrational.] Political pressure does influence him, hence the meager effort to appease the ATV and publishing industries. This amendment is consistent with the longstanding position of his staff - so there is little to indicate further flexibility. If you believe the "one bite at the apple" crowd, this is grim news and contradicts the concept above that one amendment might lead to other amendments.
  3. Waxman has no intention to publicly debate the issues under the law. Likewise, he has no intention of possibly losing control of the discussion or the message. Given his stated interest in reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, it remains critical to portray the CPSIA as a success and as an advance in regulatory "theory". The Waxman amendment makes clear that the legitimate concerns of the regulated community are taking a permanent back seat to a political agenda set by consumer groups and the California contingent. Again, not good for us. . . .
  4. The CPSIA is now clearly the Democrats' law. Republicans have been exiled from the safety debate. It is shocking that party lines now define the children's product safety debate since injuring children is not a political issue. Yet, any notion of bipartisanship has been crushed.
  5. Whether for political gain, sympathy with the original design of the legislation or for practical reasons, the Democrats on the Commission have fallen in line with the Waxmanites. The teamwork on this amendment makes them appear to be allies. If this means that the Waxman views on implementation will also hold sway, it forecasts grim developments ahead for regulated companies.
  6. The appearance of appeasement or even complicity by Ms. Tenenbaum is inescapable. Even in the friendliest interpretation of events, Tenenbaum comes out as a weak defender of the legitimate interests and concerns of the regulated community. And "common sense" seems forgotten. What kind of partner does that make her? Do her statements on consulting with stakeholders and open dialogue seem somehow self-serving now? Right now, it is very hard to know when or whether she will toss regulated companies overboard. This makes partnership with her difficult because you must give to get . . . now that the "get" is in doubt, how can the regulated community become comfortable with the "give"? I also think it's reasonable to ask why Ms. Tenenbaum allowed this provision to be negotiated in the dead of night. That's not how a partner behaves.
  7. There is a BIG issue of trust within the Commission here. The very public way in which the Republican Commissioners received notice of their irrelevance will cause lasting injury to relationships. It is hard to see collegiality restored quickly on the Commission after this betrayal. Of course, I can't help but recall the mantra repeated by many pro-CPSIA advocates - that the CPSC needs a five-person Commission. Doesn't the amendment "process" expose this as a joke? If Tenenbaum and Waxman are going to ignore the Republicans, was Congress really saying that the CPSC desperately needed three Democrats in a majority position? Gosh, I think the Republicans that voted for the law might take issue with this . . . .
  8. The inclusion of lead labeling for excluded items confirms the zealotry of the Waxmanites, the impotence of the resistance movement and the persistent disregard for the needs of innocent victims of this law. Of course, difficult-to-obtain exclusions are quite anti-small business, as are the lead labels. The labeling is even more incredible if you take into account that exclusions will only be granted in circumstances where the inclusion of lead will have virtually no conceivable health impact. So if the Chairman would sell us down the river with a useless and extraordinarily-limited amendment without addressing ANY of the other pressing issues or demanding the right of the Commission to assess risk, then what else can we reasonably expect from here on out?

That's the $64,000 question, isn't it? Frankly, this amendment and the behind-closed-doors process which excluded all corporate stakeholders and many political stakeholders, sharply erodes trust in all directions. Doing this behind everyone's backs - during a two-day workshop purportedly designed to solicit stakeholder feedback and get everyone on the same page - seems remarkably disingenuous. You can safely assume many recent conversations in retrospect seem less than candid or straightforward.

To work out the difficulties with this law, leadership on the Commission (Democrats) and in Congress (Democrats) need to come to grips with the fact that the law is incredibly misconceived and destructive. The dream that the Precautionary Principle actually works to anyone's benefit has been debunked. To cram down this noxious law despite the legitimate concerns of the regulated community will NOT snuff out opposition - but instead will inflame it. The problems won't go away, and cannot be buried. The issues will fester and rot until addressed.

If the issues marbling the law are allowed to linger long enough, the Democrats can ensure lasting damage to the agency and market catastrophe. I will repeat myself: there is a legacy issue for Tenenbaum and the Dems - and having jettisoned the Republicans, it's all theirs now. The CPSC can be rendered ineffective and wholly bureaucratic, with all the attendant damage that entails, or it can be restored to glory. The choice is theirs and the stakes are high. Interestingly, the regulated community will support an effort to restore effectiveness at the agency, but that will necessarily involve restoration of risk assessment and political independence at the agency. Hard to see Waxman going along with that.

Do we have the leaders for this effort on the Commission? Time will tell. Like everyone else, they will be judged by their results. You and I are along for the ride, whether we like it or not.


jennifer said...

great assessment. tic tock. tic tock....

i like the nord and northup blogs because i feel like i get the other side of what is going on and they listen. but it really highlights the problem with the leadership at the cpsc and i guess in a sense with the political system in general.

Esther said...

It's really hard to see the workshops as anything other than a "dog and pony" show. It gave the critics a place to speak, but really it was a diversion. What's worse is that Waxman comes off as a hero - a champion for safety. Bah Humbug! No the Dems in Congress (and the CPSC) are not operating in an open or ethical manner. Now there is no way to put into the Congressional record the real problems with the law or the people that created it. No debate, no input from the people - no, it's rule by fiat.

Counting down to the 2010 mid term elections...

Michael said...

Folks, we need to flood our Representatives and all of the Commissioners with our concerns. This morning I am not feeling too rational about any of this, so here is what I have sent. I'll calm doen later and make a more rational appeal:

RE: Waxman 'knows best' draft amendment to CPSIA

ATTACHMENT - Copy of Waxman's draft amendemtn (available in one of Rick's posts)

Can any of you tell me how exactly the attached ‘draft amendment’ that Waxman appears to be maneuvering into Defense Appropriation legislation will align legislated product risk (CPSIA) with actual product risk (normally resolved through good business practices) to help a small business with 5,000 different products that sell in quantities of 50 to 1,000 a year and average $2,000 ANNUALLY in revenue?

Can you tell me EXACTLY how this is of any assistance at all and EXACTLY how it represents the interests of the small business I run and 1,000’s of small businesses run by taxpayers just like me?

Specifically, can you explain to me how my and 1,000’s of other concerned voices were heard and represented in this draft amendment created in a private environment outside the public’s access? When and where was I allowed to submit testimony as part of a hearing process?

Most importantly, since CPSIA was and remains a failed attempt at addressing safety in children’s and consumer’s products, where does this draft amendment actually address safety issues through risk assessment methodologies? “Cause, affect, resolution” if you will as opposed to “guilty until proven innocent continuously” (CPSIA and this proposed draft amendment).

Anything, any thoughts at all?