Liveblogging the Senate Commerce Committee Hearing On CPSC Reform

Starting today at 2:30, the Senate Commerce Committee will take up S. 2045, the CPSC Reform Act of 2007. Beyond reauthorizing the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the next seven years, the Act would:

  • Boost the CPSC budget from $62 million to $147 million by 2015;
  • Add 80 new staffers;
  • Repair the CPSC’s decrepit inspection facilities;
  • Fund a full slate of 5 Commissioners;
  • Increase civil penalties from $8,000 per violation to $250,000;
  • Increase the maximum penalty for a series of violations from $1.8 million to a staggering $100 million;

Both CPSC Commissioners are expected to testify, along with a slate of interest groups like U.S. PIRG, Consumer Federation of America, Safe Kids Worldwide, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the oddly named Global Supply Chain Policy Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Keep hitting refresh as we watch Congress go Scrooge McDuck and dive into the unlimited tower of gold.
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

2:34: Hey, Commerce Committee. Your official webcast link has gone Strom on us. Please fix!
2:39: Ok, it’s not video, but we have an audio link that will suffice for the moment. Grrr, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is underwhelming us with their technology. C-SPAN3 had promised to cover the hearing, but something about Iraq is apparently more important than toys.

2:44: Durbin is showing a graph. The graph sounds exciting and vibrant.
2:46: He’s decrying the decrepit labs. He’s showing pictures of the labs. They sound messy. “Take a look at that, tell me if it inspires confidence.” Le sigh. S. 2045 will toss $20 million towards improving the CPSC labs. Maybe Bob, our small parts guy, can afford a new friend; Meghann seems interested.
2:53: Success! Thank you Commerce ninjas, for restoring the video feed and saving us from firing off a concerned email to Chairman Inoye’s Press Secretary!
2:54: Senator Pryor is imploring people to contact Congress is they have any opinion on CPSC reform. “Now is the time.” If you want your voice to be heard, write to Congress.
2:56: The CPSC budget would jump to $80 million next year (FY08) and then rise by 10% annually to $147 million in 2015.
2:58: No more screwing around, Congress is going to legislate an outright ban on lead. The legislation would also enact the third party testing proposal that the toy industry wants to draw attention away from the fact that they design deadly toys.
2:59: Senator John Sununu (R-NH) is here. First time we’ve seen him at toy safety hearing. Maybe he’s trying to gain some traction on a nice issue now that he’s facing a strong challenger.
3:01: He thinks that the people at the CPSC do have the will to address toy safety. Um, yeah, we’d hope so. The problem isn’t with the 400 staffers they have. It’s that they have only 400 staffers. The bill would bump it up to 500, which is sill less than the 700+ staffers the Commission once enjoyed.
3:02: “I hope we don’t question the commitment of these people.” You seem to be the only one who is, Senator.
3:06: And she’s picking up on the lead toys sent as an apology for the lead toys. Words not employed: ironic.
3:08: TRAGEDY! Bob, the small parts guy, is retiring at the end of the year! Oh no! We’ll be left with no drop-test guy! The terrorists have won.
3:11: Claire McCaskill (D-MO) s here. She wants to know why the CPSC Inspector General wasn’t on the case fast enough. She tried going to his website, but uh oh, he doesn’t have one.
3:12: Only 3 IGs in the entire federal government don’t have websites: the CPSC, the CIA, and the Capitol Police. Which one of these things is not like the other…
3:15: YES! “The irony of it being Thomas the Train is not lost on mothers. We thought it was getting back to the basics. There are no motors, no parts to put together. It’s a track, with a simple rolling train, and my kids love ’em.”
3:15: Onto the Commissioners. We wonder if they ever get tired of parading before these Congressional Committees.
3:16: Let’s see if Nancy Nord is now willing to accept the piles and piles of money Congress is ready to throw at her Commission.
3:18: Nord is sounding like a Scalia originalist, wanting to get back to the original meaning of the CPSC authorizing statute.
3:20: She might, maybe, work with NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) to figure out the whole third party testing thing.
3:21: “We welcome the scrutiny and attention of Congress.” Right.
3:22: She wants the CPSC to remain the gold standard for safety. The way that Mattel was the gold standard for manufacturing in China?
3:22: Moore is up.
3:23: Going straight to the holiday season and the one question on every parent’s mind: “Are toys safe?”
3:24: ‘The tools at the Commission are “glaringly inefficient” to address goods in the global marketplace.’
3:25: Nanotechnology? In Dockers pants? That’s new to us. But Moore is worried that he doesn’t have the resources to make a proper assessment. Dude, you’re getting $150 million. You’ll have plenty leftover for testing nanopants.
3:28: Senator Sununu is kicking off the questions.
3:31: Nord is worried about the construct of section 6(b), which she thinks is a good tool in the CPSC’s tool chest. The section allows manufacturers to comment on the CPSC’s rulemaking process.
3:34: Moore wasn’t kidding about nanopants. Dockers is using nanotechnology in stain-resistant pants. Quoth Meghann: “Those are some science pants.”
3:36: Sununu doesn’t want to draw conclusions from the photo of the CPSC’s hell-lab, and wants to know how the CPSC would use the $20 million to improve its facilities.
3:38: “That picture you saw of Bob, and the drop test, is the same test you would be seeing if we moved into our new laboratory.” Not really, Bob only has a year left. So sad.
3:39: Klobuchar, on Nord returning for a third hearing: “They say third time’s a charm. Hopefully not a lead charm. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.”
3:41: Onto McCaskill.
3:42: She’s hitting on Nord’s statement that her original budget request was sufficient. “Weren’t you specifically asked if you needed more, and didn’t you specifically say that you didn’t?” Nord says: No. That conflicts with our recollection of the past hearings.
3:44: McCaskill: “I’m assuming today that you will say you need more”
3:45: Nord: “Give me more and we will spend it.”
McCaskill: “You are the leader of this agency, do you believe you need more to protect the american consumer or not?”
McCaskill: “Are you requesting more resources to do your work?”
“Give me more and I will spend more.”
McCaskill:”Are you requesting more money to do your work?”
McCaskill:”Yes or no.”
-awkward pause-
Nord: “Give me more and I will spend more”
McCaskill: “Why can’t you say you need more?!”
3:48: McCaskill: “I want to assure you for the majority of Congress, you won’t get in trouble for saying that you need more.”
3:49: Bill Nelson (D-FL) explaining: “The reason the Chairman of the CPSC, as a political appointee, is not allowed to ask for more, because she is under the orders of the White House budget office to only ask for what is approved by the White House budget. And this isn’t the only agency that does this.”
3:50: Nord: “I have never had a conversation like that with the White House.” Everyone in the audience laughs. Ha, ha, ha.
3:55: Nelson is complaining that Barbie’s Dream Kitty Condo is being sold on the internet. Nord claims she’s on the case, and is asking Nelson’s office for details. He says, “umm, ok, more than what I just gave you?”
Nord: “Well, where did you buy it?”
Nelson: “On the internet!”
Nord: “A web address would be helpful.”
3:58: Now Nelson is hitting on the labs:
CPSC%20Lab.jpg“This is CPSC. Does that please you?”
4:02: Nelson is done hating on Nancy Nord.
4:03: Onto Mark Pryor, author of the bill.
4:04: The CPSC is authorized for 420 employees, but has under 400. That’s new.
4:05: They’re trying to get to the OMB’s budget cap of 401 for FY08. Unless Congress steps in and bumps it to 500.
4:10: What a terrible idea from Pryor: why not let the CPSC publicize any and all complaints on their website, regardless of their truthfulness. “Let the consumers decide.”
4:11: Nord is rightly stating that this model, employed by NHTSA, is used much farther along in the process, when the agency is ready to issue a recall. The CPSC receives 30,000 complaints and many are not accurate.
4:15: We’re done with this panel. Wow, we miss the Senate. So much better than the House’s marathon hearings.
4:17: There may be votes soon, but they’ll rock and roll until then. Time for the interest groups.

4:23: Ed Mierzwinski of U.S. PIRG is in love with the bill. He’s sitting – for the moment – but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him drop to a knee and propose.
4:24: Ah, one item not in his testimony? A concern? It’s section 25, which calls for an immediate furniture flammability standard. Of course! “We care about burns, and we care about toxic chemicals.” How versatile. He may want the section amended.
4:25: No, that’s not Michael J Fox. It’s Travis Plunkett of the Consumer Federation of America. He also supports the bill.
4:27: … and the third party certification scheme, but would like to see it applied to voluntary standards created by the industry.
4:28: Hey, we like his thinking: “We want the cap on civil liberties entirely lifted.”
4:30: He wants manufacturers to communicate with consumers via a registration card? That seems less than effective.
4:31: Alan Korn of Safe Kids Worldwide decided to share that he spends more time talking to Committee staff than he does to his own wife. Klobuchar chimes in: You can tell her you speak to her more than you talk to me.
4:32: Ew, horrible analogy. The CPSC is not in need of fertilizer, and this bill is not miracle grow.
4:35: Onto the representative of the National Association of Manufacturers. He’s obsesses with safety.
4:38: This guy is putting us to sleep faster than the clerk during a quorum call.
4:39: He’s opposed to something, one of the sections, but that monotone… it’s too powerful.
4:40: Something about not letting the state AGs to sue under the statute? Too many suits? Less CPSC effectiveness? Maybe we’ll close our eyes for just a minute.
4:41: He’s opposed to the fines: “Today, all penalties are agreed to voluntarily.” Um, right, they mean nothing.
4:42: Klobuchar is telling him to be quiet, something about waking up a pending vote.
4:45: Let’s all take a coffee break and come back in 15 minutes while the Senators go vote.
5:19: We’re back! Members of Congress can’t estimate time.
5:23: Pryor again urges anyone with an opinion, or even better, legislative language, to get in touch with the Committee.
5:26: Pryor is defending the CPSC’s current ability to impose criminal penalties. The Commission has only used the provisions once in 30 years.
5:27: Al Thompson of the Global Supply Chain Policy Retail Industry Leaders Association doesn’t think the penalties will present a major problem.
5:29: The National Association of Manufacturer’s guy thinks the standard has been lowered and will ensnare more directors and keep people from coming forward with useful data.
5:30: Klobuchar is interested in labeling and recall processes and wants a batch number or something similar applied to every toy.
5:31: Al Thompson is defending point of sale recall systems, the kind employed by Target and Walmart, and claims that they are looking at enhancing their tracking capabilities.
5:34: PIRG’s rep is making the right point; recalls do not immediately result in stores removing problematic items from shelves. Under the new Act, the CPSC is in a better position to require manufacturers to take corrective action.
5:40: Pryor wants the panel to talk about letting people post their complaints on the internet.
5:43: N.A.M. isn’t opposed to sharing information… with other governments or agencies. How off topic.
5:47: Pryor is telling a story. Back in his Arkansas days, his kids were playing with Star Wars lightsabers, when someone mentioned that they were recalled. In response, he created a site that aggregated data from the CPSC and NHTSA to serve as a one-stop shop for parents.
5:53: Klobuchar wanted to legislate the lead levels to save time and skip over the CPSC’s rulemaking process.
5:56: Nobody has a problem with a legislated limit.
5:57: The hearing is over, the work will continue. If you have any suggestions, write to Congress!

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