Have a Lot of Gall
August 18, 2001
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
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.