The House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that would allow Congress to veto new rules issued by the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The two agencies' consumer-protection rules on subjects ranging from used-car sales to toy safety frequently trigger industry opposition and have spurred congressional attempts to limit the agencies' rulemaking authority.
The Supreme Court in 1983 found unconstitutional laws granting Congress the power to veto actions of the executive branch. Congress can exercise legislative authority only if both houses approve a measure and submit it for the president's signature, the court said.
The House bill and a similar bill passed by the Senate are designed to satisfy the court's objections by requiring any legislative veto to be approved by both houses and submitted for presidential approval.
Supporters of the legislative veto argue that it is an essential tool of congressional oversight. Opponents charge that efforts to use the legislative veto on agencies such as the FTC and CPSC are the prelude to an avalanche of similar laws threatening the independence of executive branch agencies.
FTC Chairman James C. Miller III and CPSC Chairman Terrence M. Scanlon have said they favor a constitutional version of a legislative veto.
The legislative veto provisions, which differ slightly in procedures, were included in House and Senate bills authorizing funds for the FTC. The agency's last authorization expired in 1982, and the legislative veto has been among the issues preventing agreement on a new bill since then. The agency has continued to operate with money from individual appropriations.
Miller said he was "pleased and delighted" by the passage of the House bill, and hopes the two houses will move quickly to pass a final version.
One sticking point to be addressed in a House-Senate conference committee is a proposal to prohibit the FTC from making industrywide rules against unfair advertising. The Senate bill would allow the agency to address unfair ads on a case-by-case basis. The House bill does not include such a measure, which some House Democrats vehemently oppose.
Advertisers have argued that industrywide rules against unfair ads may violate their First Amendment rights to free speech, and that such rules are unnecessary because other FTC rules prohibit deceptive ads. Opponents of the proposal charge that industrywide rules may be necessary to restrict types of ads such as those aimed at children, or to require advertisers of smokeless tobacco products to carry warnings like those on cigarette ads.
Miller opposed an advertising exemption in testimony before a House subcommittee in March 1983, but then said it would be "acceptable" before the same subcommittee last April.