Writing to Congress is the single best way to express your view on public policy. The average consumer has a surprising ability to influence legislation by crafting a well written missive. Let’s find out what the common mistakes to avoid are, how the process works, and the best ways to ensure your letter has the greatest impact.
Consumers were finally allowed this week to testify in favor of a proposed Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights without being forced to sign waivers allowing their creditors to release private financial records to the public. The three cardholders who testified lambasted their credit card companies for penalizing them even though they abided by their cardholder agreements.
Credit Card Victims Muzzled, Ordered To Release Financial Histories Before Sharing Their Experiences
Four credit card victims were ordered to sign waivers allowing their creditors to release their private financial records to the public before they could testify before the House Financial Services Committee. The consumers had flown in from across the country to share their stories at a hearing on the Credit Card Bill of Rights, but credit card companies insisted—and Republicans and Democrats agreed—that it would only be fair to release documents like credit scores and a list of recent purchases in order to rebut the consumer’s claims. “Fair is fair,” Congressman Spencer Bauchus (R-AL) barked, as he defended the absurd request. Ultimately, the consumers didn’t testify, but one invitee, Steven Autrey, released his prepared statement, which slams creditors for their abusive and predatory business practices.
Never again will you have to worry about renewing your Do Not Call List registration thanks to Public Laws 110-187 and 110-188. Our newest laws provide a permanent stream of funding for the Do Not Call List and guarantee that registrations will never expire. Read the White House’s ebullient press release, after jump.
Members Of Congress Implore Mattel To "Do The Right Thing," Recall Lead-Tainted Toy Blood-Pressure Cuff
56 Members of Congress want to know why Mattel CEO Robert Eckert refuses to issue a nationwide recall for a toy blood-pressure cuff that is contaminated with lead. The affected blood-pressure cuff, sold as part of the Fisher-Price Medical Kit, was recalled exclusively in Illinois after Mattel received a complaint from State Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Legislators want Eckert to stand by a pledge made to reassure a jittery public before the holiday buying season that Mattel would ‘earn back our trust with deeds, not just with words.’
The House yesterday passed H.R. 5140, the Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008, by a vote of 385-35. The $146 billion economic stimulus plan funds $600 rebates for most taxpayers making less than $75,000. The Senate is preparing a competing $161 billion package that would extend unemployment insurance and give most Americans, including billionaires, a $500 rebate check. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi begged the Senate to shut up and play nice, saying: “I hope the Senate will take heed. It’s not unprecedented that one chamber has yielded to another.” [THOMAS]
Members of Congress introduced 7,440 bills this year and almost none of them help consumers in any meaningful way. Less than fifteen bills this session snagged our editorial love. Most cleared only one chamber, and some still haven’t earned a hearing—but maybe when Congress returns they’ll lob a few of our favorites towards Pennsylvania Ave.
The House this week voted 291-127 to pass the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act, Congress’ first major attempt to prevent a recurrence of the ongoing subprime meltdown. The bill, supported by every Democrat and 64 Republicans, stabs at the heart of the meltdown by:
- Establishing a national licensing and registration system for mortgage lenders;
- Establishing the Office of Housing Counseling within HUD to help borrowers avoid foreclosure;
- Banning loans that a borrower cannot reasonably repay;
- Banning lenders from steering borrowers towards loans with predatory characteristics;
- Making banks that securitize mortgages liable for violating lending laws.
The House voted 216-193 on Friday to keep 21 million middle-class taxpayers from paying the alternative minimum tax (AMT) next year. Republicans opposed the measure because the bill is funded by raising the tax on carried interest, paid exclusively by investment bankers, from 15% to 35%.
Friday’s bill would extend AMT relief for one year, at a cost of about $51 billion. It includes another $30 billion in largely popular tax relief measures, including expanding the child tax credit, providing a property tax deduction to some 30 million families and extending a tax exemption for the combat pay of military personnel.
Consumers may finally escape from the clutches of mandatory binding arbitration if the House Judiciary Committee smiles favorably today upon the Arbitration Fairness Act. Arbitrators rule against consumers in more than 98% of all disputes; the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law is currently meeting to consider H.R. 3010, which would restore consumers’ rights to resolve disputes fairly and openly.
The FTC will vow in Congressional testimony today not to purge numbers on the Do Not Call List while Congress considers making registrations permanent. Do Not Call registrations currently last for five years, and are set to start expiring in April 2008 despite the list’s broad popularity: 92% of Americans have heard of the list, 76% have added their number, and 92% claim to receive fewer calls marketing calls. Lydia Parnes, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, appearing before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection will hail the list for ‘restoring the sanctity of the American dinner hour.’
Starting today at 10 a.m., the powerful Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, John Dingell (D-MI), will hold a hearing on H.R. 3610, The Food and Drug Import Safety Act of 2007, or, as we have dubbed the bill, The Poison-Free Food Act. The bill would dramatically alter the FDA’s handling of imported foods, empowering the agency to:
- Issue mandatory recalls;
- Limit food imports to ports clustered near FDA inspection labs;
- Require a country of origin labels for food, drugs and medical devices;
- Subject exporters to a strict certification program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Committee will hear from two panels: The first will see FDA Commissioners and regulators defending their agency, while the second will host a panoply of foodies, including the Coalition for a Stronger FDA, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and Big Pharma.
Greedy national locksmith companies masquerade as local businesses to prey on consumers who think they are in no position to haggle. Dependable Locksmith, Basad Inc, and Liberty Locksmith are just a few of the national chains that rip-off distressed consumers, charging up to $500 for simple jobs. From the LA Times:
Hey kids, good news! Student loans will become cheaper under a bill approved last week by the Senate. H.R. 2669, passed 78-17, will recast the Department of Education as Robin Hood, diverting money from lending companies to students.
The House Financial Services Committee wants to know why it is so difficult to dispute inaccurate information on your credit report. You can watch the hearing live thanks to a webcam connected to the tubes.
The hearing will examine factors that continue to contribute to inaccurate consumer credit reports and evaluate the adequacy of the consumer dispute process under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). In addition, the Committee will hear recommendations for improving the process and efforts that furnishers, credit bureaus and the regulators are taking to improve the accuracy of credit report information and will review the status of key rule makings and studies mandated by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) related to the accuracy of information furnished to consumer reporting agencies and the adequacy of the dispute resolution process.
Hot! The Committee will hear testimony from the FTC, the Federal Reserve, consumer advocates, and industry representatives. Not invited to testify: The Consumerist. Don’t worry Chairman Franks, you can invite us to the next hearing. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER
Here’s what to do if the recent cold snap messes up your house.
The US House passed allowing the FDA to invalidate state’s food and labeling laws if they’re stricter than federal standards.