THE SCHEDULED HOUSE vote on the authorization bill for the Federal Trade Commission was delayed again last Thursday.Rep. Mary Russo said he needed more time to explain to his colleagues how the House conferees sold out funeral directors in the compromise bill they have recommended. After hearing that, we thought it might be illuminating to track down the terrible things that might befall the funerl industry if the conference bill is approved.
The House originally wanted to bar the FTC from regulating funeral directors in any manner. The Senate rejected that proposal and the conference committee came up with a compromise, one that puts some light restrictions on how the FTC can proceed.
Here are the "terrible" things the FTC might do: it could make funeral directors disclose their prices in advance to potential customers. It could bar funeral directors from engaging in deceptive or coercive practices, such as the old bait-and-switch game. It could prohibit members of this industry from using unlawful trade practices, such as illegal boycotts.
What is so terrible about regulations of that kind? Successive investigations of the funeral business indicate that some of its entrepreneurs, although by no means all, prey on the emotions of their customers to maximize their profits. Those investigations have also established that many state governments let this industry regulate itself and that this self-regulation has yet to produce, in some states, a standard of conduct that discourages price-gouging, deception, and illegal boycotts and trade practices.
There seems to be only one reason why the whole House originally, and some of its members now, want to protect the funeral directors. That reason is the political clout of this industry -- its members live in almost every hamlet and town and, in the course of business, get to know and comfort almost every voter.
There are some observers, here and elsewhere, who believe the FTC's effort to tame the funeral directors was for Congress the last straw. The agency might otherwise have gotten away with all the other controversial regulatory efforts -- aimed at children's television, used-car dealers, agricultural cooperatives, and so on -- for which Congress has punished it. Regardless, the industry needs the code of ethics that is essentially what the FTC wishes to impose.