If all goes according to plan, by the time you read this Congress will have ended its siege of the Federal Trade Commission.
Those of you who have followed the bulletins from the front lines will be surprised that Big Business is the winner and Consumerism the loser. That's the way it's going these days.
Since September, Congress has been circling the walls of the FTC shouting dirty names at the people inside it, like "Regulators!" Inside, the FTC folk have been living hand-to-mouth, on month-to-month funding since last September. On May Day, they finally ran out of funds and closed shop for a day-long fiasco.
Still, considering the number of FTC defeats, the terms of the treaty being voted on this week could have been a lot worse. For openers the FTC negotiated the right to survive. The conference bill authorizes three more years. It also leaves the commission with enough power to carry on, although not with all the weapons or energy it once had.
Under the compromise, any rules the FTC makes, Congress can jointly unmake. This two-house veto isn't good news, but it's better than what was originally proposed: a one-house veto that would turn a well-lobbied House of Representatives into a no-no stamp.
In other bad-news-is-good-news areas, the FTC has, for all practical purposes, lost its rights to regulate the insurance industry or to challenge trademarks of such items as Formica. But it has kept the right to regulate the most serious problems of the funeral industry.
Meanwhile, back in children's television land (kidvid was Belgium in the battle between business and consumers), there is another kind of compromise.
Before the siege began, the FTC had a mandate to eliminate advertising that was "false and deceptive, or unfair." They could attack ads that were outright lies, or misleading halftruths, or that in some other way took advantage of vulnerable consumers.
This fit in with a decade of consumer complaints by child advocates who maintained that it is intrinsically unfair to direct ads to kids too young to know a sales-pitcher from a preacher. Selling them highly sugared junk foods hour after hour on children's TV was, they said, a deceptive message about what kids should eat.
So eventually the FTC decided to write a set of proposals that included a possible ban on all ads to pre-schoolers and on highly sugared ads to the under-11 set.
Business heard only one word of all that: ban. In the skirmish that followed, the FTC won the title of National Nanny, and we were told to worry more about the nanny then the sugar-pushers. More people were questioning the intentions of FTC Commissioner Michael Pertschuk than the Frankenberry Folk.
Now, in this treaty, FTC has kept the right to eliminate ads that are false and deceptive. But they've lost the right to get rid of ads that are "unfair."
This could be just a question of semantics, or it could be a matter of substance. Peggy Charren of Action for Children's Television says: "Yes, it's going to make it tougher [to get kidvid rules], but we're going to do it.
"If a child doesn't understand an ad, it is deceptive," she says, and then recites an old favorite: "At work, rest or play . . . Milky Way." She says: "It's not a lie, but it is deceptive to the children who hear an adult telling them it's okay the eat Milky Way all the time."
The FTC is taking the same line, saying that their children's TV rule-making will go on unabated. But they may both be overly optimistic.
After all, this siege is bound to have a "chilling" aftereffect. These are hard times, especially for the consumer movement, and the FTC has been made acutely aware of its tenuous existence.
The consumer movement rose to national attention because of automobile scandals in the days of high profits and low accountability. In the last few months, the FTC has won large settlements from beleaguered Ford Motor Company and indebted Chrysler . . . and hardly anyone applauded.
Ironically, as Peggy Charren puts it, "the heyday of consumerism was the heyday of rotten regulators. Now we have better regulators, but with the economy, people are more worried about the problems of a job and a roof over their heads."
The atmosphere after the treaty isn't really peaceful. It still carries all the tension of a continuing cold war.