Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CPSIA - Why Have Five CPSC Commissioners?

Last night I was accused of being politically naive for having written:

"It would appear that the 'governing principle' demonstrated by yesterday's passage of the health care bill applies here. There is little need for Democrats to try to build a consensus [on the Waxman Amendment]. They have control, so bipartisan support will only be achieved when those with opposing views capitulate or are outvoted. Brave New World, I feel so safe now. . . ."

I might be naive, I suppose. Who knows, it's not for me to judge. I was informed that this is how things work in Washington and the Golden Rule applies - he who has the gold rules.

Nonetheless I think there's a larger point here. If you scroll back to the Halcyon days of 2008, you may recall the apparently urgent need to return to a "full" Commission of five CPSC Commissioners. It was asserted that somehow a Commission of three Commissioners just would not be adequate to meet the challenges of a modern world. At the time because of a vacancy, there were only two Commissioners (one Democrat and one Republican). Republican Nancy Nord, the then Acting Chairman, was savaged by Democrats for "gridlock" since the only possible explanation for the slow progress implementing the CPSIA must have been "foot dragging". Ah, how the passage of time gives us all new perspective . . . . Anyhow, with the smaller Commission, it was said that there wasn't enough dialogue, fresh perspectives, blah blah blah.

The gridlock was all a hoax, as Nord and Moore voted together on all but one CPSIA decision in their tenure together. While the issues may have been fractious and they might have rarely shared the same outlook, they still managed to find a way to vote together. The problems, the "unintended consequences", were beyond the Commission's ability to resolve. It was Congress' fault, not theirs.

Now with a full Commission of five Commissioners, three Democrat and two Republican, we find ourselves in a far more stratified and partisan situation where dialogue is often strained or nonexistent and voting blocks dominate decisions. Sadly, consensus building does not seem to be the modus operandi of this Commission or of this Chairman. With three certain votes, the Dems on the Commission hardly need to broker agreements or compromise to get to "yes". They control the Commission, and will do as they please. As Tenenbaum's and Adler's joint comments on the Waxman Amendment and the Tenenbaum/Adler/Moore joint comments on the Civil Penalty Factors indicate, the Dems are making no pretense about their controlling voting block. Pelosi and Waxman must love it.

It is a shame that this partisan situation has arisen at the Commission. After all, the CPSC is supposed to be about safety, not politics. The division along party lines smacks of closed doors and minds already made up. Reasonable positions are being discounted by the Dems for political reasons, creating many losers but few winners. It is certain to produce lesser decisions. The upside of a full Commission is being squandered without the Chairman's commitment to seek consensus.

Of course, there is far less need to open up or listen when control of the outcome is certain. Debate becomes a kind of charade mainly for public consumption. As has been apparent in the health care debate, frustration builds quickly when absolute power is used coercively. I heard someone on CNBC refer to the process leading to the passage of that bill as "dictating, not governing". This kind of resentment of the CPSC is also mounting as the "have not's" in the regulated community find themselves with fewer and fewer options. We did not sign up for a dictatorship.

This is a sad reflection of the increasingly polarized world that followed Mr. Waxman into his Chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He governs by "take it or leave it" as in his two CPSIA amendments. This is not the only way to get things done, however, as the Dingell era demonstrated.

Naive? That's the reality that I see, unfortunately.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm naive too. I always saw the CPSC as focusing on safety over politics.

Not like the FCC where it feels like they are a puppet of big telecom. Or the EPA with hot button issues like global warming which is easily politicized by both sides of the aisle.

But this past year has shown than Waxman and Tenenbaum want to turn safety into a political issue. They are being naive though if they don't think this will do lasting damage to the reputation of the CPSC. Regulated businesses don't want to have to worry about the climate changing every 2-4 years depending on who is in rhe Whitehouse or chairing the House Energy Committee.

Now at least with the healthcare bill it included over 200 republican amendments. Waxman doesn't care about anyone else's opinion when it comes to the CPSIA.

Sebastian said...

I have frequently returned to the silliness and legislative carelessness that is CPSIA when considering more recent bills.
If you can't craft a law about toys that does what you say (and presumably think) that it does, then what hope is there for bills that are more complex?
And if you can't come up with the fortitude to repeal or amend a law that is as awful as CPSIA then is there really any hope of reforming anything at all?