AMONG THE worst legislation before Congress now is the attempt to exempt doctors, dentists and other professionals from regulation by the Federal Trade Commission. The political action committees of the American medical and dental associations have been among the biggest contributors to congressional compaigns. They won a big victory in the first week of the lame-duck session: the House, by a narrow 208-195 margin, rejected an amendment sponsored by Reps. James Broyhull (R-N.C.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) and supported by FTC Chairman James C. Miller III that would have allowed FTC regulation.
Today, Congress has a chance to reverse its position. The House's amendment applied to the FTC authorization bill, a measure that has effectively died because the Senate will not act on it. So, if the Federal Trade Commission is to remain in operation at all, funds for it must be included in the continuing resolution -- the catchall substitute measure for those parts of the government not funded by ordinary appropriations bills. The House's version of the continuing resolution contains no funds at all for the FTC -- which means that, at least for the present, the professional exemption will not come up again before the House. But the Senate Appropriations Committee today will consider its own version of the continuing resolution, which includes the FTC.
The question is whether Senate Appropriations will vote to exempt the professions from coverage. Last September, it did so by a 13-11 margin. But four senators were absent then, and others may be persuaded to change their minds. Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.) has an amendment that would exempt the professions from coverage on matters relating to quality of care but that would allow the FTC to regulate their purely commercial aspects. This seems entirely sensible to us. Given the time constraints in the lame-duck session and the House's actions so far, this Senate Appropriations' vote may turn out to determine the outcome of this important and heavily lobbied issue.