Democratic and Republican commissioners alike say they are seeking to protect consumers, millions of whom are injured each year by items under the agency’s purview. But Democrats say the GOP commissioners consistently put the financial interest of business ahead of consumer safety, while Republicans say the Democrats often rush to regulate without assessing whether the safety benefits outweigh the costs.
This dispute, which has its roots in a three-year-old law that empowered the commission to become more aggressive, has been taking a particularly bitter and personal cast. In August, commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat, accused her Republican colleagues in a Huffington Post opinion piece of “delay and distortion.” The Republicans blasted Tenenbaum for what they call her “radical agenda,” and even accused the majority of “regulatory malpractice” on one particularly heated issue.
Panel evenly split
Now, with the recent departure of Democrat Thomas Moore after 16 years on the board, the panel is split evenly down the middle and facing the prospect of complete gridlock.
The acrimony grows out of changes brought about in 2008, when Congress adopted the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the most significant legislative change for the agency since its creation nearly four decades ago. Prompted by a string of high-profile recalls of lead-laden and defective toys, that legislation called on the once-sleepy agency to crank out a series of new rules under rigorous deadlines, forcing its five commissioners at the time to air their differences at public hearings while expanding their regulatory role.
Those differences erupted late last year when the commission voted along party lines to launch a consumer complaints database that enables people to report and review incidents involving products regulated by the agency. Republicans argued that any errors posted on the site could unfairly hurt a company’s bottom line and mislead consumers.
Soon after, the commission clashed again as it moved to bar the manufacture and sale of drop-side cribs, which had been linked to at least 32 infant and toddler deaths since 2000. Republicans tried unsuccessfully to delay the ban so that small retailers would have more time to sell off or retrofit their excess cribs.
Since then, the commissioners have sparred over a vote to further reduce lead levels in children’s products. Republicans objected that lead levels had been pushed so low since 2008 that requiring more reductions would drive up manufacturing costs and raise prices for consumers without any added health benefits.