A coalition of consumer activists, congressmen and retirees attacked the funeral industry yesterday for trying to gut, through legislation, proposed Federal Trade Commission regulations for the funeral business.

Four congressmen joined consumer columnist and unannounced U.S. Senate candidate from New York Bess Meyerson, and Peter Hughes, legislative counsel to the American Association of Retired Persons and National Retired Teachers Association, at a news conference at the Capitol to announce support of the FTC rules.

The House is expected to vote today on an amendment proposed by Rep. Martin Russo (D-Ill.), which would forbid FTC enforcement of the funeral industry legislation. The amendment is attached to the FTC authorization bill.

The proposed FTC rules would force funeral directors to provide consumers with complete pricing information, describe the true legal requirements surrounding such extras as embalming, and generally attempt to eliminate many alleged abuses of consumers.

The rules were formulated over a four-year period after the FTC heard 327 witnesses.

"I think it is indeed ironic that the FTC is now being castigated by some in the Congress for doing the things that Congress itself told the agency to do less than five years ago," said Rep. Bob Eckhardt (D-Tex.)

"The issue is not over regulation, but basic consumer protection and the ability of the federal government to guarantee that the public not be taken advantage of by the funeral industry," Rep. Henry Waxman said.

Meyerson called a funeral "the third largest expenditure" many families make in a lifetime, "and (it is made) with less information than they would bring to the purchase of the simplest item at a neighborhood store."

"The FTC rule protects consumers in those areas of overpayment to which distraught families are most vulnerable," she added. She said the rule would prevent funeral directors from making families purchase extras -- like caskets when the victim is being cremated -- which they don't need and can't afford by playing on their emotions.

AARR-NRTA counsel Hughes warned that if Congress scraps the new FTC funeral regulation, "no consumer interest will be safe."

"The overwhelming evidence supporting regulation has been hidden beneath an avalance of misinformation and anti Washington propoganda put forth not only by the funeral industry but also by other special-interest groups who are seeking to bury the FTC," Hughes said.

Russo has contended that the FTC rule is just another example of the kind of overregulation that is killing small business around the country. Some 92 percent of the nations funeral directors are small businesses, he said.

In addition, he claimed the new rules will result in consumers paying higher, not lower, prices, because it will put an end to certain "package deals now offered.