Starting at 10 a.m., the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will ask how best to protect children from lead-tainted imports. The hearing will be chaired by former Black Panther, Bobby Rush (D-IL), and comes exactly one week after the Senate Appropriations Committee grilled the CPSC and toy industry representatives at a similar hearing.
Parading before you today will be two familiar panels: The first will feature acting Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Nancy Nord and Commissioner Thomas Moore, who skipped out of last week’s hearing for a dentists appointment. The second will be devoted solely to Mattel CEO Robert Eckert.
Keep hitting refresh for up-to-the-minute coverage, including pictures of Members playing with lead-ridden children’s toys.
(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
9:30: Video Link – The House knows better than to use Real Player. Fun fact: before entering the Senate, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) was the Vice-President of Marketing for Real Networks.
10:10: Nancy Nord just snuck in, holding up the start.
10:13: Bang a gong, we are on! Good turnout today. It looks like ten members are in their seats and ready to give opening statements.
10:17: Finally, they fixed the audio.
10:18: Oh, Dollar General refused to attend today’s hearing. We haven’t heard of them before, but apparently, they are one of the largest retailers in the country, or at least, Chairman Rush’s district. Too bad, we would love to know how dollar stores and minor retailers – one of the weak links in the toy distribution chain – handle toy recalls.
10:21: Chris Sterns (R-FL) is giving his opening statement. The Subcommittee sent letters to twenty retailers asking for comment, and most responded. Read the responses: here.
10:23: Sterns gets it: “If Mattel was the leader, what quality controls do the smaller retailers and importers have?”
10:23: He also gets points for linking the toy safety issue to tainted food. Seemingly basic, but nobody yet has made the link. Important because next week, Energy and Commerce Chair Dingell (D-MI) is holding a hearing on his plan to revamp the FDA. Some elements of the Dingell plan (inspections, labeling, certification) could be applied to toy safety.
10:26: Onto Jan Schakowsky, or to Stephen Colbert, Jane. She’s coming out swinging: “Mattel chose to gamble with our children’s health.” And she’s accusing Mattel of obstructing the Subcommittee’s investigation for refusing to allow Subcommittee staff to tour their plants or meet with their staff.
10:28: She’s really going after Mattel CEO Robert Eckert, and by extension, the CPSC, for allowing him to get away with such a disastrous failure of quality control. “I believe Mattel’s management has forfeited the right for any American parent to trust them.”
10:30: Wow, Joe Barton (R-TX) is talking. This is pretty big because Barton is Ranking Member of the full committee, and thus, an ex-officio member of the Subcommittee. Chairs and Ranking Members only appear before Subcommittees when they truly care about the issue at hand.
10:32: “If you’re going to manufacture [toys] in China, or Taiwan, or Timbuktu, then better meet American safety standards.”
10:34: Damn, break out the firepower. Chairman Dingell has arrived.
10:35: Dingell also thinks the CPSC is underfunded, and that they should be embarrassed by their testing facilities. Questions for the CPSC:
10:38: Eckert is probably kicking himself for telling the WSJ that he didn’t really need to follow recall notification regulations. That one comment has turned him into an anti-government piñata.
10:40: He’s going wide angel on us and wants to know how our broader trade agreements might be used to prod China into enforcing standards.
10:41: Dingell is promising legislation akin to his food safety act that will kick the CPSC back into shape. Excellent.
10:43: John Barrow (D-GA) is also picking up on the tainted food/toy safety connection. Barrow is the only Member to serve on both the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Agriculture Committee. He’s talking about the different inspection regimes, how the USDA proactively sends inspectors abroad, as compared to the FDA, which simply monitors food here for dangers. Nancy Nord last week made it clear to Senator Brownback that she didn’t want to send inspectors abroad.
10:50: Terry looks like that guy from the high school debate team that you always wanted to kick, except he’s not, because nobody on our high school debate team spoke in a mind-numbing monotone. Apparently, in unrelated news, Terry says that 1/3 of Omaha, NE is a superfund site.
10:54: Charles Gonzalez (D-TX) blames a breakdown of both regulation and the private sector: “There’s no doubt this was going to happen. It just so happened that it was toys, and it was Mattel.” And, like some advocacy groups, he’s blaming toy designers that rely on potentially dangerous small magnets.
10:57: Uh oh, Michael Burgess (R-TX) is mad. He’s calling China by its full name, the People’s Republic of China. He has a rule for his family: if it’s made in China, it doesn’t come into the house. Is his house empty?
11:01: Burgess has some interesting ideas for recalled products, possibly even a new government-sponsored enterprise: ‘Do we burn it, bury it, or resell it on eBay?’
11:02: Another Republican that wants to give the CPSC more money. Yet the one that matters, the President, is willing to veto just about any spending bill that in any way exceeds his spending requests. For our part, we’re willing to shutdown the government to give the CPSC more money, you know, if it comes to that.
11:07: Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) holding the conservative line. We shouldn’t blame the private sector, and we shouldn’t ask for new regulations, because that would just result in more “bureaucratic” inspectors, and millions in big government spending, which by itself is obviously bad.
11:11: Her proof: there’s this company in her district that tests above the federal standards, and thus, all private industry should be trusted. Not like Mattel was an industry leader in testing or anything.
11:15: A mystery has been solved. While giving her opening statement, Darlene Hooley (D-OR) spoke about a friend’s child who was using a teething ring that was recalled for lead poisoning. We hadn’t heard of any teething rings recalled for lead, but Meghann thinks it’s: this. Her friend’s baby wasn’t threatened by lead poisoning, but by botulism.
11:19: G. K. Butterfield (D-NC) is talking about how lead causes mental retardation. This is one downside of the House. We love their enthusiasm and that everyone took the time to show up, but let’s get to the inquisition phase of the hearing. The witnesses are waiting to be addressed. Let’s have everyone submit their statement for the record, and hurl some questions at the witnesses.
11:22: Ed Towns (D-NY): “The blame game is not the solution,” then blames the CPSC. The Brooklyn rep wants to know if the recalls are actually successful, or if they’re are just announced. We don’t expect him to know that Walmart couldn’t recall a product if their quarterly profits depended on it, because there are no Walmarts in Brooklyn. Hey, and rather than read his whole statement, he took our advice and submitted it to the record. Way to lead, Congressman.
11:30: Well it took an hour and half, but we have a Congressman holding up toys. Thanks, Mike Ferguson (R-NJ)
11:32: He’s co-sponsoring legislation that would require independent testing, but we haven’t yet seen the legislation and don’t know if actually contains specifics, or just punts to a third party like ANSI.
11:34: Aww, Jane Harman (D-CA) Chair of the Intelligence Subcommittee of the Committee on Homeland Security has a Barbie collection. “This mother is on the case.”
11:36: We hear buzzers in the background, which means it’s time for everyone to clear out and go vote. The witnesses must be happy and antsy.
11:39: Finally, Nancy Nord is up.
11:41: Same old song: the CPSC has successfully reduced lead poisoning, lead paint is banned, etc.
11:43: “This year’s recalls are not unique.” Um, what? Yes they are. Sure, there are always a handful of lead recalls, but let’s not pretend that the sheer scope of this year’s recalls doesn’t make them special.
11:44: “These recalls have served their intended purpose.” “They have caused the entire toy industry to change their practices in the future.” No, they haven’t. The recalls have merely highlighted an ongoing problem, one that nobody has a solution to yet.
11:45: Nord may want to change her tune. Here’s what we recommend: stop downplaying the problem and talking up your MOUs with China. Instead, give us the moon. What’s the dream-world regulatory scheme? Is it a $2 billion budget, 1,000 inspectors on the ground?
11:47: Moore again. His teeth don’t look noticeably whiter.
11:49: Moore is more willing to discuss the CPSC’s needs, but these requests need to come from the Chair, not just one Commissioner. Moore, in part, blames the requirement to reduce staff for draining needed talent, but the Commission would have reasonably been considered underfunded before the non-targeted cuts were implemented.
11:50: He took a nice backhanded slap at our MOU with China, warning that we can’t rely on foreign governments to follow safety guidelines.
11:52: That was fast. Moore is done. Rush will bring the committee back as soon as votes on the floor are done.
11:53: Break out the lead-ridden toys, children, it’s recess!
12:26: And we’re back!
12:27: Nord is back to selling the MOU. We apparently asked them to ban the use of lead paint in toys, something we thought they were doing before.
12:30: Rush rightly points out that the Chinese standards for lead paint are more stringent than our own, but that decrees do not equal enforcement.
12:33: Nord blames a schism between European and American regulations. The Europeans allow a certain amount of lead based on accessibility of the lead to the consumer, while we have an outright ban.
12:34: Rush wants Nord to state clearly whether or not we need more inspectors.
12:35: The CPSC doesn’t want to have inspectors in Chinese factories. Nord is warning that foreign inspections require a “very, very, very different agency,” one that is orders of magnitude larger than the current CPSC. Why does she say that like it’s a bad thing?
12:38: Ranking Member Stearns: “Do you have enough people to enforce your mission.” Nord: “I would prefer to have more.
12:41: Jan Schakowsky: “Aggressive is the last word I would use to describe the CPSC.”
12:44: ‘If Mattel thinks they can flout the law, why should we think China will follow the law?’
12:45: Nord called Eckert’s statement: “extremely reckless.” The CPSC occasionally kicks companies that fail to follow reporting requirements, like when they fined Fisher-Price $975,000 last year. As they say, a few hundred thousand here, a few million there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
12:49: Oh the fantastic disdain Jan has when talking about the one CPSC toy tester, “Bob.”
12:50: Nord: “With respect to Bob,” he does drop tests. According to Nord, if the Agency Director says they need another person to do drop tests, they’ll hire him. Aww, Rush cut off Jan, but Ranking Member Barton yielded her time to ask for a full breakdown of the CPSC’s toy testing department.
12:54: Bob needs to be invited to testify.
12:55: Barton is trying to figure out how China can be held to honor their agreements. Nord again mentioned that she wants importers to certify that the products they import are safe. That sort of thing should have made it into her opening statement.
12:56: We’re all for certification, but we think it will be attacked by importers as onerous, and do little more than establish culpability. An effective inspection regime plus a few more Bobs would be vastly more effective.
12:58: Nord finally didn’t say “Bob,” opting for “one individual.” Good work, Chairwoman. Barton: “I think this Committee and this Congress would scrounge for a few more dollars to beef up” toy inspections. There are apparently less than a hundred field inspectors that visit ports.
12:59: Nord: “The CPSC has never stationed people at the ports.” Nancy, clearly the same old model isn’t working anymore, which means it’s time to adapt. Barton: “Well it’s time to get creative then.” Exactly.
1:02: Dingell is diving straight into the resources issue. Nord doesn’t know how many people they requested funding for from OMB. Dingell wants that figure and is sending a letter demanding it.
1:03: How many people do they need to enforce the MOU with GAQSIQ? None. Nord is asking for none. Dingell: I understand you’re not asking for any, but how many do you need?
1:04: Dingell isn’t taking any guff: Do you have agreements with other agencies?
Nord: Yes, we have…
Dingell: Please submit them to the Committee.
1:05: Dingell is just beating up Nord. He has reduced her to yes or no answers given in a meek, defeated voice.
1:06: Dingell: “Promises are wonderful. We have a fistful of promises from China.”
1:07: “What steps are being taken to honor the agreement?” He doesn’t even want an answer, he just wants the CPSC to send back a written answer. He looks like he’s having fun. Nord, not so much.
1:11: Lee Terry wants to know if independent inspections are any more effective than companies that do their own inspections. Nord thinks third party independent testing is the best way to ensure safety. Of course, we still haven’t seen a concrete proposal. She even thinks it’s good for small businesses that would probably be financially harmed by a such a proposal. Nord also stressed that she doesn’t support government inspections, but independent ones – which is great and all, so long as the government provides strict regulations to make sure that the inspections are worth something.
1:17: Charlie Gonzalez wants to know what the consequence is to China if they fail? Market forces alone, according to Nord, will drive people away from China. Yeah, that’ll work. How about some muscle behind the agreement? How about tying bills to require China to float their currency to product safety.
1:20: Michael Burgess wants to know what the difference is between voluntary and mandatory recalls. We have no comment on this question.
1:25: Way to drop the ball, Commissioner Moore. Burgess asked how much more money he wanted for the CPSC, and he just sat there staring blankly. All funding requests come from the Chair, who thinks all is hunky-dory.
1:26: Moore got back on the horse and thinks the Senate’s goal of $70 million would be appreciated. ASK FOR MORE! We all know you need it, just ask for more !@$% money! Even Consumers Union last week floated the 1972 figure of $125 million.
1:30: Nord is claiming that it takes an awful long time to train an employee. What’s awful long? “A number of months.”
1:31: Nord just can’t answer the question: ‘How many people do you need to fulfill your mission.’ She’ll accept Congress’ proposal for 420, which is 20 whole people more than the 400 they have now, but she won’t say how many she needs.
1:31: China has 210,000 people devoted to product safety? Nord: “I have no reason to think [the figures] are inaccurate. That’s what the Chinese told us.”
1:38: Ed Markey (D-MA) is contrasting the Little Engine That Could with the CPSC, the agency that can’t. Parents are playing “toy box roulette.”
1:41: Markey is shilling for a handheld analyzer, a device (conveniently made in his district) that can instantly tell whether there a product contains lead. They cost $25,000 each, so the CPSC might get two (2).
1:42: Markey’s suggestion is that if the CPSC can’t afford more, why not promulgate regulations that require importers to purchase them.
1:44: Time for the lightning round. Each member gets one more question for the Commissioners, followed by a recess for four votes (~30 minutes.) After that, Robert Eckert will face the horde of angry Members.
1:47: Burgess is asking about the flip-flops. The CPSC is trying to test the product, but haven’t been able to get a pair? What? We couldn’t possibly have heard that right.
1:52: Jan is asking about preemption from the states. States can pass tighter rules, but they need to ask the CPSC for permission.
1:55: Markey asks Moore how many staff he would like, and is answered without hesitation: 500 or more. Step in the right direction.
1:56: Recess the second. Back with Mattel CEO Robert Eckert shortly.
3:09: Well that took a while. We’re back! Hope they got all that legislating out of their system. For what it’s worth, Robert Eckert has been sitting in the Committee room for five hours. He now has five minutes to make his opening statement.
3:13: Nothing new here. He’s the guy responsible, he’s sorry, Mattel test for lead, etc etc.
3:17: Rush is getting right to asking about Eckert’s comment to the WSJ. Eckert chose not to defend his comment, saying that it wasn’t in quotes, and that Mattel’s actions speak otherwise.
3:19: Eckert is blaming regulations that give companies 10 days to determine where potentially recalled products are in the supply chain before notifying the CPSC, thus escaping the requirements of the 24 hour notification rule.
3:20: The Committee room is troublingly empty.
3:24: Ranking Member Stearns is engaging in a back in forth with Eckert over plant ownership. All the recalled products came from plants not owned by Mattel, so-called primary vendors. Stearns wants Eckert to say that products made from plants owned by Mattel are safer, but Bob won’t budge.
3:25: Clever word play. Question: Why don’t you manufacture toys in the United States. Answer: We manufacture goods in several markets outside of China.
3:27: Recalled toys are quarantined and burned in co-generation plants. Sorry, anyone looking for cheap presents to kids you dislike.
3:29: Dammit Michael Burgess, it’s not “Tommy The Tank.” It’s Thomas The Poison Train.
3:35: Stearns wants to know why the Committee staff was obstructed from visiting Mattel’s plants.
3:37: “I’m not here to quibble about that.”
3:38: Burgess is comparing the Republican downfall to a toy recall. Their brand suffered.
3:39: Since none of the other fire-throwers from this morning bothered to attend (we’re looking at you, Jan Schakowsky,) the meeting is adjourned.