A Senate committee voted yesterday to fund the Consumer Product Safety Commission for another two years, rejecting a recent Reagan administration request to close down the agency and an alternative Republican proposal to limit it to a one-year authorization.
But the vote on the two-year authorization for the agency is just one step in the battle over the nine-year-old CPSC. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee today is expected to take up a proposal by Rep. Phil Gramm (D-Tex.) to shift the agency into the Department of Commerce, ending its independent status.
The Commerce Committee's decision, by a 9-to-8 vote, came as a surprise. Rep. Robert Kasten (r-Wis.), chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on consumer affairs, had introduced legislation Monday to limit the commission to a one-year funding bill, a move which would have permitted Congress to reevaluate the agency next year, along with a reauthorization of the Federal Trade Commission. As recently as last week, Kasten and other committee Republicans had considered merging the CPSC with the FTC.
In addition, Kasten and Sen. Robert Packwood (r-Ore.), Commerce Committee chairman, suffered a second defeat as the committee voted 9 to 7 to remove from the Kasten bill a provision that would give Congress authority to veto new CPSC regulations. Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), who bucked committee leadership in voting for the two-year authorization, introduced the amendment eliminating the legislative veto plan.
Although the administration had never fought aggressively for its position, no Republican committee members proposed either abolishing the agency or moving it into the Commerce Department. In a letter to Kasten Friday, David Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, proposed such a reorganization if the committee did not choose to abolish the CPSC.
Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.), sponsor of the two-year measure, called the administration proposal "not only presumptuous but totally unacceptable" and said its adoption "would turn back the clock to an era when the government failed to accept any responsiblity whatsoever [for] protecting its citizens from even the most serious product hazards."
But the committee vote was not an endorsement of the beleaguered commission's activities, as the committee also voted to cut the agency's budget to the administration's $33 million figure, about 30 percent less than the $43 million allocated to the agency this fiscal year.
The cut would mean a loss of more than 200 jobs at the CPSC, and Ford noted that the agency would have to pay those employes about $4 million in severance pay, money that would come out of the commission's operating budget.
James Boyle, director of governmental relations for the Consumer Federation of American, called the Senate decision "better than we expected" but said that "obviously the 30 percent cut is not good."
Boyle said that at least in the future the commission could be funded at a highler level but that, if Congress strips the agency of significant powers or restructures the commission, restoring the CPSC's earlier status would be a tougher task. "Still, the commission's job will be more difficult in the future," Boyle said.
Later in the day, the House subcommittee began consideration of legislation introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that would fund the commission for three years but a levels recommended by the administration. After several amendments were defeated, the House subcommittee adjourned until today, when the Gramm proposal and other amendments will be considered