Friday, December 11, 2009

CPSIA - Waxman To Amend the CPSIA . . . Who Can We Trust?

In a remarkably-timed event, an amendment to the CPSIA was unveiled right on the heels of the two-day CPSC workshop on the "15 Month Rule". The amendment, expected to be attached shortly to the Defense Appropriations Bill (believed to be S. 1390 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010), was developed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Democratic majority (Waxman and his staff) WITHOUT consulting with the Republicans on the Committee. Attaching the amendment to a moving bill in another committee is a procedural way for the Democrats to amend the law without hearings or discussion by the committee that drafted the CPSIA - and thus never lose control of the process. This maneuver is particularly outrageous given that Rep. Joe Barton, the Ranking Republican on the Committee, has a bill pending to amend the CPSIA (H.R. 1815, co-sponsored by 29 Representatives) and also has requested hearings on the CPSIA (which requests were ignored).

The outrages of this new bill extend beyond discourtesies in Congress. Equally remarkable is Waxman's apparent consultation of the General Counsel of the CPSC on the text of the amendment without informing certain of the Commissioners. This shocker to the Commissioners is quite extraordinary and possibly poisons the well for Inez Tenenbaum's CPSC Commission. There seem to be big issues of trust here. It is not known how many Commissioners knew of the existence or terms of this amendment, but it is strongly believed that this language was drafted in consultation with and perhaps under the supervision of Ms. Tenenbaum and her staff. It is also known that the Republican Commissioners were entirely in the dark as recently as 3 PM EST today. The apparently schism in the Commission has now broken into the open with the exclusion of Commissioners from this critical collaborative process along strictly party lines. Apparently safety IS a partisan issue.

The amendment tracks the little-publicized admission by Chairman Tenenbaum in response to the written questions of Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA) that a "functional" exception to the CPSIA lead restrictions is needed. [See paragraph 16(b) of the attached document.] This amendment is primarily focused on her request. The subject of a "functional" exception to the law has been discussed behind closed doors by many stakeholders but no common vision of such language emerged. As recently as a few days ago, Congressional staffers were denying that language would be attached to the new appropriations bill. Ah, truth in politics!

The draft language, said to be "final", can be summarized as follows:
  • Redesigns Section 101(b)(1) by adding a VERY limited "functional" exclusion.
  • The new language now permits a component to be excluded.
  • Gives the Commission the power to exclude WITHOUT a hearing. Evidence no longer needs to be "peer-reviewed".
  • Preserves the loathed "result in the absorption of any lead into the human body" language in the exclusion provision.
  • Allows exclusion for product, component part or material "by reason of its functional purpose because it is highly impracticable or not technologically feasible to remove or make inaccessible the lead in such product, component part, or material" if "contact by a child with the lead . . . may reasonably be expected to be infrequent" and it is not expected to be mouthed.
  • Each product, component part or material excluded must be labeled to indicate the presence of "accessible lead".
  • The Commission may by regulation require the reduction of lead in the excluded item or material and/or establish a schedule for full compliance.
  • The new amendment restricts the ability of the Commission to exclude "an entire product" if ANY part of the product does not meet the foregoing requirements. This provision is entitled "NARROWEST POSSIBLE SCOPE OF EXCLUSION".
  • "Ordinary books" and "ordinary paper-based printed materials" are excluded from the lead restrictions under the CPSIA. This exception seems to include "quick copy" print materials, too. Materials not meeting the strict definitions of these terms are NOT excluded.

This language is not likely to make anyone particularly happy other than publishers and the library people:

The Pro's:

  1. Waxman acknowledges, finally, that the law produced by a "perfect legislative process" needs some tweaks.
  2. There is no denying now that the CPSC can't fix all the problems, and Waxman apparently concedes this point.
  3. The Commission can now grant exclusions without a hearing.
  4. Books were inadvertent inclusions in the CPSIA, and libraries were unfair victims. That has been corrected.
  5. An awkward path for fixing ATVs, bikes and perhaps pens now exists. It is also possible that even rhinestones can be addressed, at least in part, under this language.

The Con's:

  1. The amendment leaves in place the terrible "any lead" language, making exemption requests a (bad) joke.
  2. Exclusions will be hard to get and require a great deal of expense to obtain.
  3. ALL exclusions come with a Proposition 65-like "consumer right to know" label, making the sales of the product highly unlikely. Few products can carry an accessible lead label and still be sold in volume.
  4. The narrowness of the exclusion inherently limits the freedom of the Commission to act according to common sense.
  5. The Commission and the CPSC are still not empowered to assess risk.
  6. Small business issues were completely ignored, as were testing cost, liability and labeling issues.

Some additional observations:

  • The approach of Waxman to fixing this law demonstrates that the CPSIA is now a House Democrats' law. I will spit every time someone mentions the original 424-1 vote - the illusion of bipartisanship has been snuffed out once and for all. The exclusion of Republican Congressmen and Republican CPSC Commissioners from this process speaks volumes about how Washington intends to administer this law.
  • Ms. Tenenbaum's technique in obtaining this "relief" makes her look like Mr. Waxman's bag man. The close alignment of Bob Adler and Ms. Tenenbaum on the Commission puts Mr. Adler into this camp, too. [When this subject comes up, Mr. Adler's prior job on Waxman's staff always has heads nodding.] The quiet development of this language breaks the illusion that talking to the Democrats on the Commission will somehow bring changes independent of Mr. Waxman. This bill makes it look like he maintains staffers on the Commission.
  • The exclusion of books is nice, but smells a bit funny to me. The American Association of Publishers appointed Tom Allen as its CEO in April. Mr. Allen, a Democrat, served under Henry Waxman on the Energy and Commerce Committee and often followed his lead as a Congressman. Small wonder he got this job, right? It wasn't a real shock then that books were excluded in this amendment. Despite the holier-than-thou rhetoric, it's "business as usual" in Washington under Obama and Pelosi. A friend in need is a friend indeed.
  • The narrowness of the exclusion process and the requirement of labeling despite the apparent admission that such exclusions pose few health risks strongly suggests that the legislative process is being controlled by zealots who will not yield to reason. The "true believers" who now dominate Washington have a world view that you need to take on board - Californiziation. There is no compromise on these issues, regardless of common sense or hard reality. Given the exposure of the axis between these Congressional leaders and the control block on the Commission, there seems little reason to be especially optimistic of serious advances in implementation of the CPSIA by the agency.
  • The Chairman and Democratic majority on the Commission lack the political will to take on Waxman in an effort to fix the CPSIA. This potentially sacrifices the long term effectiveness of the agency in its stated purpose to protect consumer safety and possibly also the vigor and competitiveness of the American children's product industry, all to avoid the unpleasantness of a contentious job. Complaints at the CPSC that it should be renamed the "Children's Product Safety Commission" or the "Consumer Product Compliance Commission" will likely gain traction. The lack of political will to fight the good fight and to stand up for common sense create the conditions for a terrible legacy. Will these Commissioners be able to say they left the agency better off than they found it? An interesting question. Guys, there are no free moves in this game . . . .

I continue to shake my head over the timing of this development. Were I Chairman Tenenbaum, I might have told Mr. Waxman that I didn't need this kind of help. Consider what may have been lost: (a) the bonhomie and trust built in the last couple days at the workshop as CPSC Staff and all sorts of stakeholders mingled in good faith and with open dialogue, (b) the goodwill generated by the CPSC efforts to protect Cepia LLC and their Zhu Zhu Pets from unfair consumer group attacks, goodwill that now must be reevaluated, and (c) the general appearance of a new cooperative, open-minded wind blowing through the CPSC in the last six weeks. I now have my doubts about the candor of discussions and the legitimacy of stated intentions to "fix" the system. The good intentions and well-meaning of the CPSC Staff is not really in question here - but the leadership must be held accountable. You can't ask for trust and then expect this kind of thing to be ignored. You are either a partner . . . or you aren't.

The Stay is now on the table. The CPSC Commission has been meeting behind closed doors with a sense of purpose and urgency to figure out what to do with it. Your letters and emails are being read . . . but the open question is whether enough Commissioners care. The Republicans on the Commission have been open in their support for extending the Stay, but the three Dems are unaccounted for. One is said to feel strongly that the Stay needs to go away, on the grounds that Congress wants it gone. Let's not make any bones over this - it's not Congress, it's Henry Waxman. If it were Congress (in other words, a bipartisan movement supporting the existing CPSIA), then perhaps Mr. Waxman wouldn't have to sneak around to get a CPSIA amendment through Congress without hearings or discussion. So when you hear that "Congress" wants something with this law, connect the dots.

A very disappointing way to wrap up a promising week.


Jim Woldenberg said...

I wonder why Henry Waxman, and his cohort, are afraid of engaging openly, and transparently, in the business of government.

Why are they so afraid to allow Republicans to participate?

Why so afraid of Small Business?

Why are they behaving this way?

Don't they work for us, the American People? I thought that was the idea behind representative government.

Anonymous said...

Because they do not want to give their opponents any fuel for the fire. Sadly, the people that oppose this law will see it used against them for votes. All for the children! Or all for reelection!

Vivian Zabel said...

Since my small business is publishing, I can breath a slight sigh of relief, but the damage that was already done and the great damage still coming scares me.


Eric H said...

Why so afraid of small business? Because they are less centralized, harder to control. See this post for an example of how the Policy Wonks in charge think about small business.