The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved compromise legislation restricting activities of the Federal Trade Commission and delayed a fight until the agency's authorizing bill reaches the House floor.
In place of a subcommittee proposal to halt major antitrust and other regulatory actions by the FTC, the full committee voted to extent the FTC's life through mid-November, permitting it to continue work on pending cases during that time though not to issue new regulations or move into new investigative fields. That is intended to give time for the long-delayed bill authorizing the FTC's existence and spelling out its responsibilities to be brought to the floor of House and Senate and the battles over the scope of its authority to be fought out there.
For three years the authorizing bill has been tied up by a House-Senate fight over whether FTC regulations should be subject to a one-house congressional veto which the House insists on. During that time the agency has been continued in existence by provisions in appropriations bills.
Last week the Appropriations subcommittee handling the FTC money wrote language that would have stopped FTC antitrust cases against the auto and oil industries which were begun three and six years ago and would have taken away the agency's authority to police a long list of other trade practices, including funerals, used cars, breakfast foods and overcounter drugs.
A few years ago the FTC was criticized for not doing its job.Now under the chairmanship of Michael Ertschuk, who came there from the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee, others criticize it for doing too much.
Subcommittee members said they were simply trying to prod Congress into passing the authorizing bill by cutting off funds for some activities. Others called it a power play by special interests. The chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees called it "a very serious and improper interference" in regulatory proceedings.
The compromise, worked out yesterday morning just before the full Appropriations Committee was to meet on it, apprently was in large part the work of Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), second-term congressman and member of the Appropriations Committee. He knew Pertschuk from the days when both worked for Sen. Warren G. Magnuson (D-Wash.), and was "concerned about the emasculation of the FTC."
Dicks said the House Democratic leadership promised to get the FTC authorization bill out of the House Rules Committee, where it has been sitting for four months and to a House vote soon. Appropriations Chairman Jamie Whitten (D-Miss.) and Rep. John Slack (D-W.Va.), who handles the FTC item, agreed to the compromise.
Dicks said he talked to Pertschuk yesterday and "under the circumstances he agreed to it." It was approved by the Appropriations Committee with almost no debate. If the authorizing bill is still stuck in two months, they may go through it all over again.