Today is a big day for Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). Starting at 11am, the Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government will kick off a series of hearings examining the toy industry’s seemingly magnetic attraction to lead paint. Durbin, whose Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s budget, will grill toy industry representatives, consumer advocates, and members of the government over plans to protect America’s children from the dangers silently lurking on toy shelves by establishing an independent testing regime.
The Subcommittee will haul not one, but two Consumer Product Safety Commissioners to testify, along with the heads of Toys R Us and Mattel, who recently agreed to start testing their products for lead paint contamination. Representatives from Consumers Union and the official-sounding American National Standards Institute will round out the motley crew of pedoprotectionists.
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(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
10:35: Video Link – Today’s hearing will be carried live on C-SPAN. If you can’t wait until 11, hit the link now for coverage of the U.S.-China Consumer Product Safety Summit.
11:00: Right on time! Looks like this will be a family affair; members from the Senate Commerce Committee will be stopping in. Expect to see Senators Pryor (D-AR), Nelson (D-FL), and Klobuchar (D-MN) soon.
11:03: This is personal for Durbin. He came to the issue after reading a series of articles in the Chicago Tribune about Magnetix, which he had bought for his grandson.
11:04: The CPSC is underfunded. Let’s see if the CPSC is willing today to admit that they are underfunded.
11:05: A chart! Hot! It’s a bar graph showing the level of imports rising compared to the declining budget of the CPSC. Good work, staffers.
11:06: The CPSC is up for reauthorization, which will be managed by Senator Pryor. Durbin wants to actually empower the CPSC by reducing the time companies have to respond down to 15 days from 30, and by boosting fines to a level that companies will get the attention of companies.
11:09: You little government folks will like this: “There is little government can do to restore confidence.”
11:11: Onto Senator Brownback. He, too, is packing a chart showing the country of origin for most recalls.
11:12: He’s vehemently attacking China: “Made in China has become a warning label.”
11:13: He agrees, the CPSC needs more power, and believes in an independent testing regime similar to Underwriters Labs for the toy industry.
11:14: Umm, way to rush off topic, Senator. He’s got this thesis that open democratic governments will catch defective products (apparently not!), unlike the closed totalitarian governments that produce them – which is why the Chinese need to fairly value the Yuan.
11:15: He has another two charts that show that the Yuan is overvalued and that China supports terrorist regimes. What?
11:15: Oh, ratchet it up, Senator: Chinese weapons have made it to Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq.
11:16: Ok, this is too good – way to go Stevens on us, Brownback!
11:17: Brownback: “American consumers have been hit over the head by a 2×4. We can’t allow this to continue to take place.” He actually did have a point before going off the rails: the undervalued Yuan provides the economic basis that empowers production in China – but defective products and terrorism really aren’t the same thing.
11:19: Senator Pryor is testifying.
11:20: He and Commerce Chair Innoye (D-HI) introduced legislation this morning that will do four things:
11:21: Resources: The CPSC will get the money they need to hire adequate inspection staff and afford testing facilities.
11:21: Lead: The legislation would ban lead in children’s toys – wait, that hasn’t been done?
11:22: Inspection: The bill would provide for independent testing, but they don’t have a definite proposal yet. Look to Senator Nelson (D-FL) for that.
11:23: Penalties: There will be pain for people who break the law.
11:24: Onto Senator Nelson (D-FL) – he caught the catch in China’s announcement yesterday banning the use of lead paint in toys meant for export to the US: “What about the toys exported elsewhere in the world?” “That’s not the only problem with the toys!”
11:25: Statements from Senators we did not expect to hear today: “The Laugh And Learn Bunny has a nose that comes off.” Nelson is worried that the lead announcement does nothing to address magnets and small parts that children can ingest.
11:26: The only way to address those shortcomings is with independent testing.
11:27: Maybe Nelson didn’t read Slate’s piece yesterday, which called the toy industry’s independent testing request an over-hyped batch of self-serving hogwash.
11:28: Klobuchar has arrived.
11:29: Aww, her daughter was embarrassed when the recalls only affected SpongeBob, but when they reached Barbie, she came into the kitchen and said: “This is getting serious.”
11:29: Catchy saying: “They shouldn’t be on our shores, they shouldn’t be in our stores.”
11:32: Oh, C-SPAN cameras. They panned out as the second panel was being seated, missing Senator Durbin holding up the small Magnetix magnet.
11:34: Example of the CPSC’s misplaced priorities: Commissioner Moore must leave early to make a dentist’s appointment. Dude, seriously, you’re testifying to Congress. Reschedule the @!#$ dentist’s appointment!
11:35: Acting CPSC Chair Nord is pulling rank and talking first, despite Moore’s appointment.
11:36: Nord just came from the U.S.-China Product Safety Hearing and she has big news: GAQSIQ has agreed to stop using lead paint in products destined for the US. Wait, that’s not new.
11:37: They will continue to work with the Chinese as part of four working groups: Electrical Products, Toys, Cigarette Lighters, and Fireworks. That’s not new, either. We wrote about it during a past hearing.
11:38: She wants “organic changes to the CPSC,” such as engaging China and other producer nations. They have signed Memoranda of Understanding with 10 nations and the EU. Um, they had a MOU with China before the Chinese Poison Train hit the tracks. Clearly, they are not the solution.
11:40: Nancy is going to China to tour production factories. Great.
11:40: Onto Moore, who is definitely reading from a statement.
11:42: He’s throwing fire: the first step is to reject the President’s budget request. He wants instead, an additional 10%-15% increase.
11:43: He wants inspectors at the ports, in the markets – all over the place. He’s using his pre-dental work speech to talk more about CPSC reauthorization than toy safety.
11:45: Durbin points out that China told him they already had a “zero-tolerance policy.” “So what’s new?” Way to pick up on our point, Senator!
11:46: Nord: “That’s something you’d need to ask the Chinese.”
11:46: Durbin: “But you entered into the agreement with them!”
11:48: Things are getting heated, so Moore leaves.
Nord: “Can I come with you?!”
Brownback: “You’re facing your own dentist here.”
11:50: Jewelry with lead is still coming into the country, but the CPSC doesn’t have the authority to do anything about it, such as propose a new rule. Just another example of how the CPSC’s lack of a quorum hurts American consumers. How many products have they recalled? They don’t know, so Durbin meekly asks: “any?”
11:53: Durbin wants to know why the CPSC toy testing facility looks like this:
11:54: According to Nord, that facility is an old missile test site. Some sites aren’t even up to code. They’re talking to the GSA about fixing the situation. “I am frankly not happy with the progress that is being made.”
11:55: Nord on the single toy tester: he spends his time doing small parts testing, toy-drop testing. “Bob’s our small parts guy.” Remember, this government gets $2 trillion per year, but don’t worry because Bob is our small parts guy.
11:57: Brownback is asking questions and wants to know why lead is still landing on our shores. (Maybe it’s the terrorists!)
11:58: Nord is again punting to China, insisting that it is illegal to import products with lead and that they are working to enforce the law.
11:59: Brownback just meandered onto intellectual property, complaining that he was offered a DVD in Beijing in the 90s before the movie came out in the US: “We need to pull the club out and start shutting things down.”
12:00: Brownback wants to put US inspectors in China, but isn’t quite understanding Nord’s insistence that our Constitution doesn’t empower us to enforce US law from within other countries.
12:04: Importers don’t need to certify that there is no lead paint in their toys because lead is covered by the Hazardous Substances Act, not the Consumer Product Safety Act. Commissioner Moore might have been able to expand on that, but he went to the dentist.
12:06: Durbin is getting angry and wants to again know if there is a new agreement with the Chinese to prevent lead from coming into the country.
12:07: Nord keeps sticking to the claim that there is a US ban on lead paint.
12:08: Durbin, yet again, wants to know if the new MOU sets a new standard for lead: “Is there or isn’t there?”
12:09: This is a critical question that Nord should be able to answer. China, with the help of Madison Ave PR firms has stepped up its damage control operation with several grandiose statements, but nobody knows if they are resulting in changes on the ground.
12:09: Durbin wants Nord to explain her comment in today’s WSJ, stating that we must now ask questions about the state of Chinese factories. Does that mean we weren’t asking questions? Nord is clearly getting angry.
12:10: Back to lead jewelry. Beyond the proposed rule, he wants to know what action the CPSC has taken.
12:11: The CPSC doesn’t have a quorum, so they’re just reading comments about the proposed rule. They have tried recalling the few products they catch, but that isn’t good enough for Durbin.
12:14: Brownback’s 9-year-old daughter asked him: “Why is everything made in China?” Get ready for a rant…
12:15: “There’s this huge frustration, we’ve lost jobs, they manipulate their currency, and now their products aren’t safe.” “We gotta actually do something, that’s why I’m talking about bringing the club out. Maybe it’s shutting factories down, we just won’t accept products from that factory.” For some reason, we don’t think Senator Brownback has a complete grasp of the problem – or the global economy.
12:20: Nord: “I so appreciate hearing your sentiments.”
12:22: Klobuchar wants to know how we’re going to enforce our ban on lead in toys. According to Nord, we’re going to explain the law to manufacturers. Well, that should fix everything. What would help, is clear legislative language allowing the CPSC to demand a statement from importers that their products are free of lead. We imagine that this would help further establish culpability, but are importers really the ones that can make such a statement, or are they merely the first US-based entity that can be punished under our laws?
12:26: Nord can’t even say how many companies currently test for lead, or at what frequency.
12:27: She needs to stop referring to “Bob the small parts guy.” Bob, the small parts guy, suggested that Senators go out to Long Beach and see just how many acres of products are being imported, and then look out to the Pacific and see how many more are on the way. According to Nord, that’s why 3 or 4 inspectors won’t help, and a systemic change is required.
12:28: Onto the third panel, featuring Toys R Us, Mattel, Consumers Union, the Toy Industry Association, and the American National Standards Institute.
12:30: Toys R Us immediately takes recalled toys out of their system and institutes a point-of-sale ban, which as we know, is not the most effective way of handling a recall. They do, however, accept any recalled toy back without question, even if it wasn’t sold by Toys R Us. That’s nice.
12:36: Mattel’s CEO is talking now, and like the head of Toys R Us, he starts off by mentioning that he’s not just a CEO, but a parent, too.
12:37: Taking a cue from former Jetblue CEO David “Mortified” Neeleman, Eckert is again apologizing sincerely to all parents. “We were let down, and we let you down, too”
12:40: Ah, he mentioned being ready for the holiday season, the elephant in the room that nobody else has yet addressed.
12:41: Onto Consumers Union, attacking the President’s budget request for the CPSC right out of the gate.
12:42: And now she’s attacking the CPSC for their unwillingness to accept new funds or new regulatory authority.
12:43: Geeze, Sally, slow down! She talks faster than we do, which is quite the accomplishment. “Inspections cannot be left to the Chinese factory owners.”
12:44: She wants the CPSC budget set at $125 million, the modern-day equivalent of its 1974 budget, and for Congress to eliminate the cap on fines.
12:45: Onto the Toy Industry Association.
12:45: This is why CEOs should run their testimony by a communications department: “The Toy Industry Association is the leading toy industry association in the world.”
12:47: Tsk, tsk, Mr. President, don’t try to downplay the recalls by saying that they only affect a small percentage of total sales. How would you feel if a small percentage of your family, say one of your five kids, died due to lead poisoning?
12:49: He’s talking up the American National Standards Institute, which will testify next, contrasting their approach to a “top-down government-driven approach.” We will again recommend Slate’s criticism of the toy industry proposal.
12:50: Onto Joe Bhatia representing ANSI, who thanked Chariman Durbin for properly pronouncing his name.
12:51: We want only one thing from this guy: a clear outline of the toy industry’s proposed independent testing regime.
12:52 Here’s what he’s got: The first step is to make sure people are adhering to standards. The second step is to help the CPSC and the industry evaluate the competence of people conducting tests. We are underwhelmed – but on September 26 they are having conference that might better flesh out a real proposal.
12:57: Durbin hit on one of our first thoughts, and asked the heads of Toys R Us and Mattel when their kids realized they could brag to their peers: “My dad runs a toy company!”
12:58: Durbin, unlike Brownback, clearly gets it. He wants to know why we should be surprised that there are problems when the industry decided where to manufacture their goods based solely on cost considerations.
1:00: Durbin wants to know about the testing plans, since (see picture above,) it’s clear that we won’t do the testing.
1:01: According to Mattel, it doesn’t matter where the testing is done, since the labs always catch the problem. He’s breaking out the cookie analogy: If we watch the ingredients going into the cookie, and we watch it bake, we still need to test the cookie (thus destroying it,) but we’ll know that’s it’s mostly safe.
1:02: Durbin mentioned the holiday season. Most products destined for the holidays have already been made and already been shipped, so whatever testing is agreed upon won’t keep Christmas safe.
1:02: We just now noticed that there are toys on the dais next to Durbin’s nameplate:
1:03: Durbin is sicking Consumers Union on the CPSC’s inability to address lead in jewelry.
1:04: Consumers Union thinks the CPSC had plenty of authority to go after the jewelry industry that they just haven’t used.
1:07: Brownback: “I am familiar with Toys R Us.” This is a good time to mention – just in case you didn’t already know – Brownback is running for President.
1:09: Only 35% of Mattel’s goods are made outside of China.
1:10: Mattel’s CEO visits China regularly, but Brownback doesn’t seem to understand why, as a retailer, the head of Toys R Us doesn’t visit China.
1:11: Brownback wants to know if Mattel has tried to escape from the evil, closed, Chinese market. Mattel is claiming that the industrial revolution in China has actually made the market better, and that regardless, they test regularly.
1:12: Brownback comes back with: “But that didn’t work!”
1:13: Mattel: “I don’t know that that’s a question of where that product was made.”
1:13: Browback wants to know how they don’t see the problem as a function of the macro problems. “I hope you’ll consider other countries.” Brownback, where the hell do you want these companies to go, besides America? Vietnam?
1:20: Mattel supports more resources for the CPSC. That’s just about everybody, except CPSC Acting Chair Nord.
1:24: Some lead is acceptable, but not much: 6 parts per million, which is apparently the industry standard.
1:25: Durbin pointed out that California has a stricter state standard.
1:26: Storch, from Toys R Us, thinks that it is just a standard of 30 parts per million, and that it only applies to vinyl.
1:27: Durbin wants to know what responsibility toy designers have for making toys with small parts or magnets.
1:28: Mattel: “We occasionally make a mistake. Everybody does.”
1:30: Brownback wants to know about Mattel’s meeting with Chinese officials. Mattel meets mostly with local officials in the south.
Brownback: “Have you ever met with officials from the People’s Liberation Army?”
1:32: Brownback thinks we just shutdown Chinese access to the U.S. market. Does he have a comment login?
1:40: Durbin concludes by calling us failures: