SOME ENTERPRISING members of Congress joined with the funeral industry last week to arrange a package deal. Their offer, accepted by the House Rules Committee, is to give new life to the Federal Trade Commission while ending its authority to regulate the funeral business. As part of an agreement to move the FTC bill, the committee members cleared it under a rule permitting only three amendments -- the worst of which would specifically exempt the funeral industry from FTC regulation. The funeral amendment is not only bad special-interest legislation, but a poor approach to any general curbing of the FTC's regulatory powers as well.
The bill already contains another unfortunate provision designed to clip the commission's wings. It would allow either house to overturn any industry-wide trade rule that the FTC adopts. In the past, the Senate opposed this one-house veto. It should do so again. But House members as well should resist this new attempt by the funeral industry to gain special insulation against regulation.
To support deregulation of certain industries, or to oppose certain unnecessary intrusions by the FTC -- and we have done both -- is different from voting to exempt the funeral business form scrutiny of its practices. The rule of thumb should be to deregulate in those areas where the buying public can reasonably be expected to be knowledgeable.
But that has not been the demonstrated case in this industry. A funeral is, for most people, their third most expensive consumer puchase (after home and car), yet half the population has had to arrange for a funeral only once, and a quarter of the population has never had to buy one. The public needs protection against misrepresentations and other shoddy merchandising practices. The degree of regulation is subject to debate -- but an absolute ban on any regulation is bad business indeed.