I want to quote from another blog (thank you, Steven Hansen) on this amendment's path to the President's desk:
"This bill and the path it has taken is an example of why people are very frustrated with Congress and getting legislation passed in general. These 'legislative' fixes have been getting passed around in backrooms for months and when they finally did come to a 'vote' the 'fix' was already in and they sailed thru in minutes or seconds on votes that were purely formalities. There was really no warning that this would be passed when it did or in this fashion. If you did not get what you wanted in here well that's too bad because you are not likely to see any further relief for some time. Apparently Congress is going to be in recess until after Labor day as they had to work so hard to pass the debt ceiling bill."
Mr. Hansen is completely correct. We know that even Republican members found out about this amendment when it was docketed for a House floor vote. Mark-up, schmark-up. The Senate also made the decision (if that is even possible, since the Senate is an inanimate organization without a mind) to shift to HR 2715 without debate, and passed it with a voice vote. These decisions were literally made in minutes behind closed doors and Members of Congress had no time to read (and perhaps no interest to read) the "noncontroversial" bill. After three years of intense bickering, a small group of individuals made the decision for all of us that this bill is good enough to "fix" the CPSIA. There won't be another "fix" to this law again, perhaps EVER. You know the bill sucks if Henry Waxman is clucking about it. In fact, most of the text of the bill was his handiwork almost entirely (functional purpose, testing "relief" (Eshoo), database (Markey), small batch "relief").
And what did we get for all our good government dollars? I have previously given my quick assessment of this law and have no interest in repeating the exercise at this point. I would like, however, to highlight low lights of the bill:
Winners: ATVs, Bicycles, Resale Goods, Books, Libraries
Losers: See above list, and if you're not on it . . . you.
Technical Fixes of Past Congressional Screw-ups:
- 100 ppm lead standard is prospective now. And WHY wasn't Congress able to do this for 300 ppm or 600 ppm? Good question. The five CPSC Commissioners called for this particular change back in January 2010. What's the hurry now???
- Changes to testing requirement to "representative" rather than "random" samples. And we just hired our third statistician, too!
- Restricts the phthalates ban to accessible plasticized components. i guess Congress isn't worried about kids with serpent tongues any longer.
- Makes FUTURE crib standards prospective. And who said the $32 million in recently discarded good fixed-sided crib inventory died in vain?!
Small batch manufacturers, the most micro of businesses (under $1 million in total turnover) must register prior to utilizing any of the nifty cost-saving testing innovations now being cooked up by the very open-minded CPSC. This is the CPSC's version of the sex offender registry. Is there ANY basis for singling these people out for special attention? Why doesn't Mattel have to register, too? Oh, come on, you know we must have different rules for Mattel! They need their own firewalled labs and so on for their efficiency. [Here's a good example of their efficiency.] It's only fair, the real safety worry is the crafters . . . .
The only good news is that none of the small batch manufacturers will ever have to suffer this indignity. The clever gnomes of Congress have figured out how to appear to give something to those heart-rending little nobodies without doing squat. How do they do that? The only "relief" that the CPSC may implement must meet this standard: "Any such alternative requirements shall provide for reasonable methods to assure compliance with any applicable consumer product safety rule, ban, standard, or regulation." [Emphasis added] This CPSIA term has already been interpreted by this Commission multiple times. The word "assure" ensures that no relief will ever be given since nothing can "assure" compliance other than prophylaxis. Notably, the Commission has purportedly looked for this "out" for three years and came up with nada. And Bob Adler has been "agonizing" over it for that entire time. [I feel AWFUL for him, he suffers for each of us.] How will another year or two of agonizing produce a different result?
Suckers are welcome to wait longingly for this promised "relief" but they will be disappointed again and again. Protest is futile.
Disgusting, Repellent Hypocrisy:
Consider the amazing gimme provided to bicycle manufacturers:
"(B) METAL COMPONENT PARTS OF BICYCLES.—The third party testing requirements established under subsection (a) shall not apply to metal component parts of bicycles with respect to compliance with the lead content limits in place pursuant to section 101(b)(6) of the [CPSIA]."
They don't have to test their metal components at all. AT ALL, EVER. Bicycle manufacturers are different than you and me.
Let me be clear - I think testing metal components on bikes is a stupid and pointless waste of time and money. The bike industry testified in the CPSC 100 ppm hearing that when they tested a single part in ten places, they got ten different results. Whoa! They proved they had an unsolvable problem and apparently Congress listened. How heartwarming!
I gave similar testimony and submitted similar data about our products at the same hearing in the same panel sitting at the same table. Congress must have gone deaf by that time. Oddly, the CPSC staff included this data and my testimony in their 100 ppm report. So perhaps Congress isn't just deaf, they may be blind, too. Or perhaps they just don't bother with the details.
Inquiring minds want to know about this particular term benefiting bicycle manufacturers:
1. The AAP testified that there is a real risk that kids might lick their bicycles. Problem? Apparently not, but the testimony was taken morbidly seriously at the time. I wonder why Congress wants to protect bike lickers now.
2. Perhaps you recall that the CPSC rejected the request of Learning Curve to exempt its brass bushings on toy car wheels. This decision was a "major victory" for safety because, get ready for it, there was lead in the brass bushings although Bob Adler noted there was no danger even to a child at the "tipping point" in lead exposure. [Adler voted to reject LC's petition nevertheless. He "had" to, the law left him no choice.] Later the Consumers Union warned against playing brass instruments in a band because of the dreaded lead in brass. [Degchi (Curry cookware) is one of many traditional Indian cooking utensils and pots made of brass. Where are all the Indian victims from generations of eating off brass?] The CPSC also held the line against bikes, pens and ATVs over the purported lead content of their metal components because the Dems asserted that there is no safe level of lead. Is Congress signalling that metal components are uniquely safe in bicycles? How did Congress figure this out? Is there something in the Congressional record on this point?
The term about testing metal bicycle components first appeared in this bill when it went to the House floor on suspension. Bills on suspension cannot be amended. Hmmm.
3. I recall Rachel Weintraub intoning during testimony at the CPSC and in Congress that consumers expect their products to be tested before sale. [Former Commissioner David Pittle told the same tale at a CPSC hearing.] Bicycles won't be tested before sale now. How will consumers be able to sleep peacefully? How will they know which items are not tested (ATVs, books, bikes, resale goods of all types) and which are tested? Won't they have the same uncertainty again? I can feel the fabric of our society tearing a little bit . . . .
4. Bicycle manufacturers have indicated that tests of metal components vary depending on where you test the component. There is unpredictable variability in their test results because . . . metal components are not precisely homogeneous. Metals are used in components in many children's products, not just bikes. It follows that all metal components pose the same issue. It also follows that metals pose an equal risk of lead poisoning regardless of the product they are used in. So why must we test our grommets and staples when bikes can tool around untested?
5. Is there a reason why OTHER components on a bicycle (presumably made of plastic and vinyl) must be tested? Is there a known health hazard there that bike companies must protect against? Will those tests achieve anything for anyone? And why must every other product category still subject to the CPSIA test every component, whether metal or plastic?
6. The CPSC has held that it is "technologically feasible" to make every component of every children's product compliant to the 100 ppm standard. There were no exceptions to their conclusion. Why did Congress in its infinite wisdom decide that bicycles alone could be forgiven the need to meet this standard and alone to not have to test its metal components? [The other problem child under this provision, ATVs and motocross, was written out ENTIRELY.] Why weren't bikes made to comply with the astute judgment of the CPSC and shift over to new materials to meet the "toughest lead standard in the world"? After all, that only costs money, and Bob Adler assured us that the cost would be minor and worth it. Can't be too safe and, of course, we all know that safety delayed is safety denied. Isn't this action of our all-knowing Congress denying safety?
As I have noted, this law picks winners and losers. Applying reason and rationality to this arbitrary allocation of spoils is a pathetic waste of time at this point. Congress has decided what's best for all of us, and with the Tenenbaum gang in charge at the CPSC, you shouldn't spend much time hoping things are going to change in the future. Henry Waxman and Rachel Weintraub won.