Democratic Underground

Republicans Have a Lot of Gall
August 18, 2001
by Richard Prasad

On July 25, the Senate Commerce Committee started holding hearings on deciding whether or not to let Mary Sheila Gall become the new head of the consumer product safety commission. George W. Bush seemed oblivious to charges that Gall seemed to tip the scales, in certain cases, against the consumer and in favor of the manufacturer of the defective products. Small wonder. Bush is oblivious to most things, and now consumers must be wary of both the products they buy and the agency that's supposed to protect them. This is just the latest case of Dubya bending over for big business and the American public being screwed.

When did this big business love fest at the cost of consumers begin? To republicans seems like only yesterday, but in fact, it was five long months ago. In Mach of 2001, the EPA under Christie Todd Whitman wanted to withdraw the Clinton administration's new rules on lowering the acceptable amount of arsenic in the water. Clinton's new rules would have lowered the amount of arsenic from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion, and here's the part that most conservatives forget, Clinton's arsenic rules were to be phased in over 5 to 9 years. They were not going to kick in overnight. But the Bush administration trotted out the old, tired, pro-business argument that it would cost local water companies billions to meet these standards and hence the delay.

The suspension of the Clinton arsenic rules were so dubious that the Republican led House of Representatives voted in late July to lower the levels of arsenic in the nation's drinking water. And as you know by their fine work with the Patient's Bill of Rights and Bush's Energy Plan, that the House Republicans aren't exactly the most progressive bunch of guys in Washington, but even they saw that this was a loser of an issue for Bush, and didn't want arsenic in the water tied around their necks.

By the way has anybody heard from EPA chief Christie Whitman lately? Is she part of the witness protection program with Tony Soprano or something? Is her toothy grin on a milk carton somewhere? Having lost all credibility she had for being the environmentally sensible governor of NJ, (sensible compared to most republicans that is) she might as well keep a low profile, very low.

Scarcely was the dust clear from the arsenic controversy when the Bush administration floated a trial balloon that would also affect public safety. In April, the Bush administration announced that it wanted to end the testing for salmonella in beef that were part of school lunch programs. This was despite the fact that 9 million pounds of beef failed the test from June 2000, to June 2001. 9 million pounds of beef could be used to build a scale model of Consumer Product Safety chief nominee Mary Sheila Gall, but that is a mental picture none of us need, so forget it.

Who was in favor of relaxing the salmonella testing standards, you ask? The Consumers Union? Heck no, it was the American Meat Institute and the American School Food Services association. Once again, big business was whispering sweet nothings into Dubya's ear and he was listening of so attentively. "The standards were too difficult so the prices were going up." said Janet Reilly a spokesperson for said Meat Institute. Luckily Democrats in Congress and consumer groups put up such a fuss that the Bush administration reversed themselves, and a week later announced that the FDA would continue to test for salmonella. The Bush Administration had to eat its words and the kids of America were spared any more mystery in it's Mystery Meat.

Then came the nomination of Ms. Gall, a big fat reminder to all us that big business is in the driver's seat in the Bush Administration. On key issues, like that of baby walkers and bath seats and wide rail bunk beds, Gall consistently blamed the consumer and not the manufacturer when accidents using these products. Don't those dumb babies know how to use these products? Does the government have to do everything? Imagine, the government having to look out for the safety of children. Gall wrote in a letter in 1999 about the "profusion of proclamations issued by this commission on behalf of the Federal Nanny State."

This is the woman Republicans want in charge of protecting consumers? Even though over 200 children have died because of playpen bedding related deaths over the last year, this woman wants to have an ideological discussion about the role of government in consumer protection? Do something to save the lives of those children, save the ideology for the Republican National Convention, when we know no one is listening.

Republicans put up a lame defense for Gall, saying that President Clinton re-nominated Gall to the consumer protection post, after Gall was initially put on the commission by the elder Bush. One, Clinton nominated Gall as a deal to get Ann Brown to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and two, when Clinton nominated her, she was one member of a panel, not the head of the commission. There's a big difference being part of something and being in charge of the whole thing. Don't believe me? Ask Dick Cheney!

On August 2nd, the Democrats on the Senate Commerce Commission voted down Gall on a party line vote 12-11. Senate Majority Leader Dashle said that he doubted Gall's nomination would make it to the floor of the Senate, and the Bush administration moaned that bipartisanship was dead. Excuse me, but when was bipartisanship ever alive in the Bush administration? The tax cut was largely a party line vote, and so was patients bill of rights, so where is all the bipartisanship? In contrast, the Clinton administration was awash in bipartisanship, NAFTA was bipartisan, so was welfare reform, and the crime bill. All of which genuinely made the country better. Bush's idea of bipartisanship is peeling away just enough Democrats from states he won, in order to get something passed. That is not bipartisanship, that is political blackmail.

There is a lesson in the defeat of Gall, and the fights over arsenic and salmonella testing. When Democrats stick together and fight for principles that they believe in, they win, and the country is grateful. When they allow themselves to be splintered by an interest group, like labor's undue influence in the energy bill, or their own political self interest, like the Democratic senators who voted for Bush's tax cut, then their voices gets muddled, their message gets lost. The Republicans learned that lesson long ago. How many republicans voted for the Dingle Ganski patients rightsbill? Seven. How many supported it a year ago. Upwards of 60. True believers who will fight for what they believe in. Americans respect that. Hopefully the Democrats have learned that lesson now.

In the mean time, if you are a consumer, let the buyer beware. The Consumer Product Safety Commission may be hazardous to your health. Why? Because the Republicans still have a lot of Gall left in them.

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