Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats Discuss Consumer Safety

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – United States Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Bob Casey (D-PA) held a press conference today to discuss recent remarks by the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and touted a strong reform package to strengthen the faltering watchdog agency.

This year alone, more than 20 million toys have been recalled because they pose hazards to children. The CPSC, which is responsible for overseeing the safety of more than 15,000 consumer goods, employs fewer than 425 full-time staff, relies on antiquated testing facilities and employs just one full-time toy tester.

In a letter to the Commerce Committee last week, however, CPSC Chairwoman, Nancy Nord, called the Senate bill “unnecessary” and urged lawmakers to oppose the legislation.

“When I hear statements like Chairwoman Nord’s, I’m struck by the similarities to another bureaucratic failure – the planning and response to Hurricane Katrina. More than 20 million toys recalled, the lowest staff levels in over a decade and one person responsible for testing the safety of toys – and changes are unnecessary? That’s a heckuva statement, Nancy," said Durbin. "Katrina taught us that when the head of a public safety agency ignores reality, refuses to act and is unwilling to heed the advice of professionals, ordinary families pay the price. Our bill gives CPSC the tools and resources necessary to deal with the flood of dangerous products before the situation gets worse."

“We’re one step closer to answering the call of moms and dads around the country who want the CPSC to stop dangerous toys and products from ending up in their homes. I can appreciate the industry’s gut reaction to act in their interest, but Congress and the President need to act in the public interest. Moreover, the acting Chair of the CPSC should be leading the way, not dragging her feet. Our kids’ safety is at stake,” Pryor said.

The Senate’s package of reforms, The CPSC Reform Act of 2007, will more than double the agency’s budget from $62.7 million to $141.7 million by 2015, increase staffing levels by nearly 20 percent, dramatically increase the cap on fines from $1.8 million to $100 million and give the CPSC greater authority to inspect and recall products. The bill also contains a third party testing requirement for children’s products, bans lead in children’s jewelry, and makes it illegal to knowingly sell a recalled product.

“After millions of toys have been pulled from shelves, we’ve taken action to effectively ban lead from all children’s products," said Klobuchar.  "It will keep unsafe toys off our shores and out of our stores. As the holiday season approaches, parents ought to know that toys are safe before they reach the toy box.”

“Toy safety is not only important with the upcoming holidays, but a year-round concern,” said Nelson.  “We need to pass this bill to make sure the toys and other products consumers bring into their homes are safe.”

“What happened to the Consumer Product Safety Commission putting safety first?” said Casey.  “As a former Auditor General, I know what it is like to be a watchdog and protect the public.  We need to improve our inspection and enforcement, and we need to give the Consumer Product Safety Commission all the resources they need to protect parents and consumers.”

In her letter, Nord argued that the proposed funding increase contained in the Senate bill would “harm product safety and put American people at greater risk.” The senators responded by pointing out that the cliché "less is more" often cited by Nord, has done little to improve consumer safety. Instead, the senators argued, it has done a great deal to protect industry’s bottom line.

Since 1980, the CPSC’s staff levels have been halved and funding kept nearly stagnant; at the same time, foreign imports have dramatically increased. The lawmakers argued that the dramatic increase in funding they proposed will allow the agency to increase staff for the inspection of children’s products and free up manpower to investigate reported hazards.

The senators also responded to White House Press Secretary, Dana Perino, who suggested at yesterday’s press briefing that whistle-blower protections in the Senate bill would “incentivize people to wait” until a problem is too great to be stopped in an effort to reap a financial reward. The senators noted that whistle-blower protections in the Pryor bill are modeled on other similar laws already in place and which have proven successful. Similar statutes have encouraged people to come forward and report problems with consumer products before they reach the marketplace.

The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday approved comprehensive legislation to improve the CPSC which now goes to the full Senate for consideration. Durbin, Klobuchar and Nelson have all introduced stand-alone measures to improve safety standards; many of which were included in the bill passed yesterday by the Commerce Committee. Senator Casey has co-authored a bill to require importers, including toy importers, to carry the insurance necessary to carry out a recall and cover any liability arising from that product.

This year, Durbin and Pryor have each held hearings on the issue of toy safety in their respective subcommittees. In June, the Appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which Durbin chairs, held a field hearing in Chicago where CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord testified. In September, Durbin held a second hearing on the issue where he heard again from Nord and the CEOs of Mattel and Toys “R” Us, the nation’s largest toy manufacture and retailer.

All the members at today’s press conference have been actively engaged on the issue of consumer safety for some time and have worked with the CPSC to highlight and fix gaps in the system that have allowed for the recalls we’ve seen this year.