On February 10, Congress enacted the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), wreaking havoc on sellers of children’s goods such as bookstores and thrift stores. Some sellers couldn’t comply with the lead testing requirements mandated in the law, so they offloaded up to a billion dollars worth of merchandise – into the dumpster.
In response, four Democratic legislators asked President Obama to seek the resignation of the Consumer Product Safety Commissioner. Why? Because in response to the uproar, Commissioner Nancy Nord told angry business owners to “call their congressional members and ask for relief from compliance with CPSIA.” In other words, she thought the best way to comply was to ask for an exception to the law and not comply at all.
That didn’t sit well with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, or the other three Democratic legislators who penned the call for Nord’s resignation.
The Commission, not the Congress, is responsible for interpreting and carrying out the provisions of the CPSIA.
The legislators then detailed a list of grievances against Nord and her Commission, including past allegations of inappropriate travel – from November of 2007 - and her inability to enact regulation in a timely manner, despite unrealistic turnaround times mandated by Congress. Nord responded on January 30 of this year:
The retroactive nature of the law does pose serious problems for thrift stores and charities who now must decide whether they can continue to sell children’s clothing, tricycles, bikes and similar products. This problem is real and will not go away by “education and outreach”…we are finding that there are problems and issues that were not discussed, and, presumably, not contemplated, by the Congress.
Her sentiments were echoed by the Handmade Toy Alliance, a coalition of 237 toy stores, toymakers and children’s product manufacturers from across the country. Their lobbying has resulted in Congressional letters to the CPSA, hearings, and a top slot in the Ideas for Change in America, a nationwide competition following the election of President Obama “to identify the best ideas for change in America.” The HTA’s “idea for change” calls on Congress to enact guidance for the CPC “that will protect toymakers, thrift resellers, publishers, and clothing manufacturers from the unintended consequences of the CPSIA.”
The HTA’s call for Congressional guidance is tinged with hypocrisy. In the “Idea for Change” meme, the HTA ostensibly calls for Congress to instruct the CPSA on how to improve the CPSIA regulation. On their website, the HTA notes that “A poorly written, needlessly broad, complex, and hard to understand law cannot be turned into a well written, targeted, effective, and easy to understand law through the regulatory process,” implying that revoking the law is the only surefire solution.
The only clear direction seems to be the movement of Democratic lawmakers dropping the ax on Nord’s neck – and they may see some blood. On Saturday, Obama addressed one half of the consumer safety picture - food - setting up a Food Safety Working Group and appointing an FDA Commissioner. Perhaps a new appointment to the head of the CPSA is next.