Supporters of a controversial bill to establish a new office of consumer representation were feeling more optimistic yesterday as the House opened debate on the bill.
An effort by Reps. Dan Glickman (D-Kan) and Jim Leach (R Iowa) to offer a substitute which would simply have established consumer council offices within each of 23 major federal departments and agencies was defeated, 313 to 93.
Still, both sides were predicting the final vote, which is expected today, would be close.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr (D-Mass) said many Democrats had promised they would be with him in supporting the bill if he needed them. "If I can find them, I think I can win it," he said. "In the old days in the Massachusetts legislature, we would look the doors. But of course we can't do that here."
Republican sources conceded that about three Republicans who were loaning against the bill were now for it, and leadership sources and pro-consumer [word illegible] said they had picked up votes during the course of the day.
The president was reported to be calling members on the bill, and he told his Cabinet officers to work for it actively.
The bill, the major legislative thrust of consumer advocate Ralph Nader, or others similar to it have been before Congress for eight years. Rep. Frank Herton (R.N.Y.) a leading Republican backer said. "If it doesn't clear [the House] today, it is very unlikely we'll be successful again."
Most Republicans are expected to vote against the bill, which is opposed by such groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, and Business Roundtable.
Rep. Jamie Quillen (R-Tenn.), said, "A turkey is a turkey is a turkey." Quillen said the bill would result in more federal regulations which people do not want.
But Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) said the bill is "in effect a government reorganization bill" because it would transfer into one office 20 existing consumer affair offices in government agencies. This transfer, along with the abolition of six other offices, would amount to a savings of $11.6 million Brooks said. But House Minority Whip Robert Michel (R-III) said, "This bill won't save any of us a dime.It is the son of the Great Society. Like father like son."
And Rep. Elliott H. Levitas (D-Ga.) said the bill would create a "whole new gaggle of bureaucrats."
Rep. John Anderson (R-III.) said the bill is an "idea whose time has come and passed."
But Rep. Richard Bolling (D-Mo.) said there is "more reason for the bill today" because the "problems the consumer faces are greater." He said the bill would put consumers in the picture and give them representation before federal regulatory bodies.
The Office of Consumer Representation would have the power to intervene in a federal agency proceeding whenever the OCR administrator determined that it would substantially affect interests of consumers. It could request other federal agencies to start proceedings when it was determined it was in the interest of consumers and it could request, and the agency would have to issue, subpoenas for witnesses and information when the OCR was involved.