excess food consumption, and would prevent state law enforcement officials from bringing legal actions to enforce their own consumer protection laws.
If you don't believe me, I implore you to read the bill. Section 4(5) would prevent any legal action relating to "any health condition that is associated with a person's weight gain or obesity" stemming from consumption of a "qualified food product," which in turn is defined to include food and nutritional supplements. There is no requirement whatsoever that the person actually have gained weight as a result of consuming the product. As a result, the bill would prevent persons who develop heart disease and diabetes from dietary supplements such as Ephedra and Phen Phen from being able to obtain redress. Moreover, under the Manager's amendment, private actions for harm caused by adulterated or poisoned products would also be limited.
Even worse, the bill bans these lawsuits on a retroactive basis, so it would throw out dozens of Ephedra and Phen Phen cases currently pending in court. This is a far cry from the concerns that led to this legislation.
H.R. 339 would also prevent state law enforcement officials from enforcing their own laws. Under section 4(3) the bill applies to legal actions brought by any "persons," which in turn is defined to include any "governmental entity." That means state attorneys general will be prevented from pursuing actions for deceptive practices and false advertising against the food industry. Again, this is a vast departure from most of the so-called tort reform bills considered by this Congress, which are drafted to apply to private lawsuits.
The legislation is frivolous because it deals with a non-existent problem. To date every single private lawsuit against the industry-a total of five-have been dismissed. The system is working fine, there is absolutely no crisis. Frivolous suits are thrown out of courts, and lawyers who bring them are subject to fines and other sanctions. It is absurd that this Congress would even consider eliminating liability when today's Washington Post is reporting that obesity is passing smoking as the leading avoidable cause of death in our nation.
Lets not pass a bill which harms the victims of Ephedra and Phen Phen, or handcuffs our state attorneys general from protecting consumers.
I urge a "no" vote.
Mr. PAUL. Mr. Chairman, Congress is once again using abusive litigation at the state level as a justification nationalizing tort law. In this case, the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act (H.R. 339) usurps state jurisdiction over lawsuits related to obesity against food manufactures.
Of course, I share the outrage at the obesity lawsuits. The idea that a fast food restaurant should be held legally liable because some of its customers over indulged in the restaurants products, and thus are suffering from obesity-related health problems, is the latest blow to the ethos of personal responsibility that is fundamental in a free society. After all, McDonalds does not force anyone to eat at its restaurants. Whether to make Big Macs or salads the staple of one's diet is totally up to the individual. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that a diet centering on super-sized cheeseburgers, french fires, and sugar-filled colas is not healthy. Therefore, there is no rational basis for these suits. Some proponents of lawsuits claim that the fast food industry is "preying" on children. But isn't making sure that children limit their consumption of fast foods the responsibility of parents, not trial lawyers? Will trial lawyers next try to blame the manufactures of cars that go above 65 miles per hour for speeding tickets?
Congress bears some responsibility for the decline of personal responsibility that led to the obesity lawsuits. After all, Congress created the welfare state that popularized the notion that people should not bear the costs of their mistakes. Thanks to the welfare state, too many Americans believe they are entitled to pass the costs of their mistakes on to a third party-such as the taxpayers or a corporation with "deep pockets."
While I oppose the idea of holding food manufactures responsible for their customers' misuse of their products, I cannot support addressing this problem by nationalizing tort law. It is long past time for Congress to recognize that not every problem requires a federal solution. This country's founders recognized the genius of separating power among federal, state, and local governments as a means to maximize individual liberty and make government most responsive to those persons who might most responsibly influence it. This separation of powers strictly limits the role of the federal government in dealing with civil liability matters; and reserves jurisdiction over matters of civil tort, such as food related negligence suits, to the state legislatures.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would remind the food industry that using unconstitutional federal powers to restrict state lawsuits makes it more likely those same powers will be used to impose additional federal control over the food industry. Despite these lawsuits, the number one threat to business remains a federal government freed of its Constitutional restraints. After all, the federal government imposes numerous taxes and regulations on the food industry, often using the same phony "pro-consumer" justifications used by the trial lawyers. Furthermore, while small businesses, such as fast-food franchises, can move to another state to escape flawed state tax, regulatory, or legal policies, they cannot as easily escape destructive federal regulations. Unconstitutional expansions of federal power, no matter how just the cause may seem, are not in the interests of the food industry or of lovers of liberty.
In conclusion, while I share the concern over the lawsuits against the food industry that inspired H.R. 339, this bill continues the disturbing trend of federalizing tort law. Enhancing the power of the federal government is in no way in the long-term interests of defenders of the free market and Constitutional liberties. Therefore, I must oppose this bill.
Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore (Mr. Ose). All time for general debate has expired.
Pursuant to the rule, the amendment in the nature of a substitute printed in the bill is considered as an original bill for the purpose of amendment and is considered read.
The text of the amendment in the nature of a substitute is as follows:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the "Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act".
SEC. 2. PURPOSE.
The purpose of this Act is to allow Congress, State legislatures, and regulatory agencies to determine appropriate laws, rules, and regulations to address the problems of weight gain, obesity, and health conditions associated with weight gain or obesity.
SEC. 3. PRESERVATION OF SEPARATION OF POWERS.
(a) IN GENERAL.-A qualified civil liability action may not be brought in any Federal or State court.
(b) DISMISSAL OF PENDING ACTIONS.-A qualified civil liability action that is pending on the date of the enactment of this Act shall be dismissed immediately by the court in which the action was brought or is currently pending.
(1) STAY.-In any qualified civil liability action, all discovery and other proceedings shall be stayed during the pendency of any motion to dismiss unless the court finds upon motion of any party that particularized discovery is necessary to preserve evidence or to prevent undue prejudice to that party.
(2) RESPONSIBILITY OF PARTIES.-During the pendency of any stay of discovery under paragraph (1), unless otherwise ordered by the court, any party to the action with actual notice of the allegations contained in the complaint shall treat all documents, data compilations (including electronically recorded or stored data), and tangible objects that are in the custody or control of such person and that are relevant to the allegations, as if they were the subject of a continuing request for production of documents from an opposing party under applicable Federal or State rules of civil procedure, as the case may be. A party aggrieved by the willful failure of an opposing party to comply with this paragraph may apply to the court for an order awarding appropriate sanctions.
(d) PLEADINGS.-In any action of the type described in section 4(5)(A), the complaint initiating such action shall state with particularity the Federal and State statutes that were allegedly violated and the facts that are alleged to have proximately caused the injury claimed.
SEC. 4. DEFINITIONS.
In this Act:
(1) ENGAGED IN THE BUSINESS.-The term "engaged in the business" means a person who manufactures, markets, distributes, advertises, or sells a qualified product in the person's regular course of trade or business.
(2) MANUFACTURER.-The term "manufacturer" means, with respect to a qualified product, a person who is lawfully engaged in the business of manufacturing the product in interstate or foreign commerce.
(3) PERSON.-The term "person" means any individual, corporation, company, association, firm, partnership, society, joint stock company, or any other entity, including any governmental entity.
(4) QUALIFIED PRODUCT.-The term "qualified product" means a food (as defined in section 201(f) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 321(f))).
(5) QUALIFIED CIVIL LIABILITY ACTION.-The term "qualified civil liability action" means a civil action brought by any person against a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product, or a trade association, for damages, penalties, declaratory judgment, injunctive or declaratory relief, restitution, or other relief arising out of, related to, or resulting in injury or potential injury resulting from a person's consumption of a qualified product and weight gain, obesity, or any health condition that is associated with a person's weight gain or obesity, including an action brought by a person other than the person on whose weight gain, obesity, or health condition the action is based, and any derivative action brought by or on behalf of any person or any representative, spouse, parent, child, or other relative of any person, but shall not include-
(A) an action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly and willfully violated a Federal or State statute applicable to the manufacturing, marketing, distribution, advertisement, labeling, or sale of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of injury related to a person's weight gain, obesity, or any health condition associated with a person's weight gain or obesity;
(B) an action for breach of express contract or express warranty in connection with the purchase of a qualified product; or
© an action regarding the sale of a qualified product which is adulterated (as described in section 402 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 342)).
(6) SELLER.-The term "seller" means, with respect to a qualified product, a person lawfully engaged in the business of marketing, distributing, advertising, or selling a qualified product in interstate or foreign commerce.
(7) STATE.-The term "State" includes each of the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and any other territory or possession of the United States, and any political subdivision of any such place.
(8) TRADE ASSOCIATION.-The term "trade association" means any association or business organization (whether or not incorporated under Federal or State law) that is not operated for profit, and 2 or more members of which are manufacturers, marketers, distributors, advertisers, or sellers of a qualified product.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. No amendment to that amendment shall be in order except those printed in the designated place in the Congressional Record and pro forma amendments for the purpose of debate. Amendments printed in the RECORD may be offered only by the Member who caused it to be printed or his designee and shall be considered read.
Are there any amendments?
AMENDMENT NO. 5 OFFERED BY MR. SENSENBRENNER
Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.
The CHAIRMAN. The Clerk will designate the amendment.
The text of the amendment is as follows:
Amendment No. 5 offered by Mr. Sensenbrenner:
Section 3©(1), strike "In any qualified civil liability action," and insert "In any action of the type described in clause (i) or (ii) of section 4(5)(B),".
Section 3(d), strike "section 4(5)(A)" and insert "section 4(5)(B)(i)".
Section 4(5), strike "The term" and insert "(A) Subject to subparagraphs (B) and (C), the term".
Section 4(5), strike "any person, but shall not include-" and insert "any person."
Section 4(5), insert after "any person." (as inserted by the preceding instruction) the following:
(B) Such term shall not include-
Section 4(5), strike "(A) an action" and insert "(i) an action".
Section 4(5), insert "or" after "obesity;".
Section 4(5), strike "(B) an action" and insert "(ii) an action".
Section 4(5), strike "; or" and insert a period.
Section 4(5), strike subparagraph © and insert the following:
© Such term shall not be construed to include an action brought under the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. 41 et seq.) or the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 301 et seq.).
Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, my amendment does not alter the substance of the bill, it simply clarifies it further. First, to clarify and ensure consistency in interpretation, it simply amends one phrase in the bill's stay provisions in Sec. 3© to track language used in the bill's pleading requirements in Sec. 3(d). Second, it replaces Sec. 4(5)© with language making it clear that the term "qualified civil liability action" does not include an action brought under the Federal Trade Commission Act or the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
I believe that this change satisfies the objections that the Committee on Energy and Commerce levied against the bill.
I would urge the Members to support my clarifying amendment.
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment.
(Mr. DINGELL asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this amendment. I rise in support of the thesis that we should be considering these matters.
This legislation is a very important part of the administration's program. Just think what it does for this Nation. It says that civility liabilities actions in Federal, State courts against food manufacturers, distributors or sellers that are based on a claim that the person's food consumption resulted in weight gain, obesity or a health condition that is associated with weight gain or obesity is terminated. A very important step.
Now let me give you the history of what we are talking about here, because the administration has an economic program and it is an important economic program and the American people need to know what it is.
First, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors said that the transportation of American jobs abroad or outsourcing is a normal part of trade and he supports it. Second, the administration has come forward with a serious attempt to expand the definition of manufacturing in this country, something which is very important, especially if you are sending manufacturing jobs overseas. And this administration has sent 2.7 million manufacturing jobs overseas. They have also lost 3.3 million jobs in the United States. So there is a serious attempt on the part of this administration to grapple with that problem.
They seek to see to it that we can change the definition of manufacturing jobs now so that they cover fast food handling. Just think of what this means in terms of jobs for the American people. Jobs in manufacturing that paid $27 an hour will now pay minimum wages at McDonalds or Wendy's or Burger King or somebody like that. But just think of the number of new jobs that they can create.
Now, this bill is going to protect those new manufacturing jobs against the prospect of lawsuits which might, in some way, jeopardize the expansion of the American economy and the creation of new jobs in manufacturing.
I think that this tells us many things. First of all, it says they no longer care about autos or steel or aircraft or other important manufacturing concerns and interests that mean jobs, real jobs for the American people, but at least it means that they are paying attention to the fact that we have got to have something done for job creation in this country. It means that they are finally recognizing that we have to protect some portion of the American economy.
The fact that they are beginning with fast food, and food should not be a source of condemnation but rather one of praise, because it means that after a long slumber, they have come alert to a significant problem, the fact that they are not competent to come forward with a real solution, which puts Americans back to work in real jobs, which would enable Americans to have jobs, which will enable them to feed their families, to house them properly, to see to it that they are properly educated or go to college is only a beginning.
We must hope that with the assistance of this body and the passage of this important legislation that perhaps, just perhaps, we will begin down the road towards doing something about protecting American manufacturing, about protecting American manufacturing jobs and about seeing to it that Americans go back to work.
I do not want my colleagues to denigrate the administration. It is not funny. It is sad, and what I want to say to my colleagues is, it is time we do something more than just pass this kind of legislation.
Let us address the problem of the sanctions that the Europeans are getting ready to put on American manufacturers and American industry and the American economy. There is a discharge petition down here at the clerk's desk. My colleagues can sign on it if they want. We can begin to address the fact that this administration does not care about manufacturing, that they have lost millions of manufacturing jobs, that they are not able to be truthful about it.
Last month, we got 22,000 jobs through. In these jobs, 21,000 of them were government jobs, State and local. They were not manufacturing. They were not jobs that put people to work, and they were not jobs that increase productivity for the economy. They were just jobs in the service industry.
If my colleagues look, they will find that there are hundreds of thousands of Americans every month who are falling off the unemployment rolls. If my colleagues look, they will find that there are millions of Americans looking for jobs. They will find that the real unemployment level is around 7.4 million instead of the 5.6 percent that they are talking about. This is a serious problem. It needs to be addressed. This kind of legislation will not do it.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word, and I am going to ask the gentleman from Michigan if I can ask him a question or two, if he will go back to the microphone because he touched on a subject that I talked about in the general debate here, and he at least has tried to put this in perspective for me.
I could not quite figure out what it was that the argument was that this bill was about job creation. Is the gentleman now saying that the production of hamburgers is a manufacturing job?
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. WATT. I yield to the gentleman from Michigan.
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, that is what the administration would tell us, but I would say to my friend, that I am as confused on what the administration's policy is as the administration is and as my good friend is, because they do not seem to know what they are doing, what they are standing for or what they are about. They like jobs going overseas. They think that manufacturing jobs should be flipping hamburgers or handling trays or dealing with mopping the floor in a McDonald's. Those, to this administration, are massive manufacturing jobs.
At the same time, they are not giving tax cuts to the people who would buy those hamburgers or who would buy American automobiles or do other things to make the economy really move and go as it should.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the gentleman giving me that enlightenment because I had been trying to stretch my imagination to figure out how this debate was about jobs, and I think the gentleman has put his finger on it. I do not necessarily agree with him, but at least that gives the argument some plausibility if one is trying to argue that the processing of hamburgers is manufacturing jobs and it is a manufacturing process and that we have got to protect manufacturing jobs in this country, then we want to do everything we can, but I think it is a stretch.
As I said before the gentleman arrived on the floor, I have heard some pretty interesting explanations for job loss in this country, but this would be way, way, way down the list, like 999,000 on my list of the problems that is creating job loss in this country. I am surprised that the sponsors of this bill have couched it in terms of job creation, but the gentleman has certainly, with the years of experience he has been here, given me some framework within which to evaluate that. I am most appreciative to him.
I yield to the gentleman.
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman. I will observe that the creation of jobs is one of the major functions of government and seeing to it that we have the prosperity that is needed, that people can work, they can raise their families well, that they can heighten expectation of this generation and the next generation for the future of this country.
I would say that sending jobs to India or China is not a function of which the administration could be proud. I would say that the administration's got to start functioning and focusing on those questions. I would say they are not. I would say this body, with this legislation, is not focusing on those questions either.
It is time we get down to the serious business of addressing jobs, manufacturing, opportunities for Americans and stop all of this piddling around with nonsense that accomplishes nothing in the broad public interest.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, I am going to join my colleague from Michigan in supporting the amendment. I am not sure whether it was tongue-in-cheek that he was supporting the whole concept, but I cannot join him in supporting the bill if he is supporting the bill. I doubt that that is what he is doing. I think that was kind of tongue-in-cheek that he was proceeding, but I certainly support this amendment. It makes a terrible bill less terrible. We could not make it any worse, I do not think, and more importantly, from the sponsor's perspective, it keeps the bill from having to go to the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, if the gentleman would yield, we will receive this bill most kindly in the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and we would have some splendid questions for the sponsors of this legislation about jobs and job creation.
Mr. WATT. But this is such a critical piece of legislation that it must be considered on the floor today and anything that would delay the consideration of it on the floor today, even if it went to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over most food issues and matters of commerce of this kind, would surely be counterproductive.
Mr. DINGELL. Mr. Chairman, it would be helpful, I believe.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore (Mr. Ose). The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner).
The amendment was agreed to.
AMENDMENT NO. 6 OFFERED BY MR. SCOTT OF VIRGINIA
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, as the designee of the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Watt), I offer an amendment.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. The Clerk will designate the amendment.
The text of the amendment is as follows:
Amendment No. 6 offered by Mr. Scott of Virginia:
At the end of the bill (preceding the amendment to the long title), insert the following new section:
SEC. 5. STATE CONSUMER PROTECTION ACTIONS.
Notwithstanding any other provision to the contrary in this Act, this Act does not apply to an action brought by a State agency to enforce a State consumer protection law concerning mislabeling or other unfair and deceptive trade practices.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, this amendment reads simply: "Notwithstanding any other provision to the contrary in this Act, this Act does not apply to an action brought by a State agency to enforce a State consumer protection law concerning mislabeling or other unfair and deceptive trade practices."
Mr. Chairman, if the House is going to decide that we will try some cases instead of letting them be tried in court, we ought to at least limit that to the fast food rhetoric that we have heard on the floor. This bill, in fact, covers not only fast food lawsuits, but also litigation involving consumer protection when obesity may be one of the elements of the case.
Every single State has laws in the books to protect its consumers. Each State has laws to protect its consumers from misleading practices. As written, the bill will prevent States' Attorneys General from enforcing these laws. It will not just stop the fast food suits that my colleagues have discussed, but because a person is defined in section 4(3) of the bill to include governmental entities, it will prevent States from getting injunctions, cease and desist orders, or imposing fines against those who endanger consumers.
The exception for a willful and knowing violation is not just enough. State deceptive practices are just like the Federal Trade Commission Act. They allow civil enforcement actions whether or not the defendant knowingly or willfully violated the law. In fact, food labeling and deceptive practices often have exacted strict liability, that is, that the government can get an injunction whether or not the person was intentionally or knowingly in violation.
Mr. Chairman, my State of Virginia has a Consumer Protection Act which prohibits, and I quote, representing that goods and services have characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits or qualities that they do not have or any other conduct which similarly creates a likelihood of confusion or misunderstanding. A court may order an injunction or restitution to injured parties, even if the violation was unintentional.
The fact is Virginia is not alone. Twelve States have adopted the Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act section 3 which says intentional deception is not necessary to get injunctive relief, and at least 23 other States have similar standards.
So, Mr. Chairman, the amendment I present today will fix the problem. It will ensure that States can still put an end to mislabeling, deceptive practices and false advertising within their borders. Whatever we think of the fast food suits, please do not prevent States Attorneys General from protecting their citizens.
Mr. KELLER. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word. I am not going to support this amendment, and I would ask all of my colleagues to vote no on this amendment on two grounds.
The first ground is that the bill only precludes lawsuits in which the injury claimed is obesity and weight gain. State consumer protection statutes are not lawsuits in which the injury claimed is obesity or weight gain. Rather, in the State consumer protection cases, the injuries claimed are unfair and deceptive trade practices or misleading labeling.
However, because the amendment implies that the State consumer protection laws somehow do allow lawsuits in which the injury claim is obesity or weight gain, Courts may well read it to grant all State agencies new power to use their State consumer protection laws to seek damages against the food industry for obesity-related claims. In other words, this would essentially gut the bill by allowing State Attorneys General to bring the very same claims that we are trying to get rid of.
I cannot think of a single State consumer protection law right now that allows a State agency to sue because someone got fat from eating too much.
The second ground I object to this amendment on is the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) said he does not like the fact we have the knowing and willful standard. The knowing and willful standard is exactly the same standard used in H.R. 1036, the Protection of Lawful Commerce and Arms Act that overwhelmingly passed this House in a bipartisan fashion. It got 285 votes, and so anyone who voted for H.R. 1036 and who votes for this amendment will literally be voting for stronger protection for gun manufacturers than for the food industry, which is the largest private sector employer, providing jobs to some 12 million Americans.
I urge my colleagues to vote no on this amendment.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the gentleman from Virginia's (Mr. Scott) amendment. It seems to me to be absolutely consistent with the manager's amendment which said that this legislation was not going to be construed to include an action brought under the Federal Trade Commission Act.
State consumer protection laws are characteristically State counterparts to the Federal Trade Commission Act. They are States' efforts to protect the same kind of things at the State level that the Federal Trade Commission has jurisdiction over at the Federal level.
Now, this kind of takes me back to the argument before, I had the notion that the reason that they really were striking the Federal Trade Commission Act from the applicability of this proposed law was because they really did not want this legislation to have to go to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, so it was more about them not wanting to delay today's proceedings and not wanting them to let the Committee on Energy and Commerce, for which there has been a long-standing tension on many issues between the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Energy and Commerce, they did not want them to have any jurisdiction over this.
But if we are going to exclude actions brought under the Federal Trade Commission Act at the Federal level, in fairness, unless we are saying to the States that somehow or other they are less attentive to these issues or less intelligent or have less of an interest in protecting your citizens than your big brother Federal Government has, then it seems to me that we ought to be following the same process at the State level, and it is the State consumer protection laws that are the equivalent of the Federal Trade Commission Act on the Federal basis.
So if we are going to be parallel or consistent in our evaluation of these things, it seems to me that the amendment of the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) makes patently good sense. And of course I am not sure that any of this is designed to make patently good sense, but I think it is our obligation in this body to at least try to bring some consistency to it.
Now I am assuming that under the Federal Trade Commission Act, if there are any individual causes of action, those things would be protected also. I do not know that. We have not had any hearings on this to make that kind of determination, but certainly the word "person," as it is defined, would exclude State consumer protection laws that are typically administered by the attorney general for the protection of the citizens in that particular State, and perhaps that is the reason that the State attorneys general are so vigorously opposed to this legislation. They do not view us or the Federal Trade Commission as being their big brothers, and more brilliant, sometimes more arrogant, they would tell you. They think that they serve a pretty valuable role in this Federal system that we have. Again, we are dishonoring that role. I urge support for the gentleman's amendment.
Mr. CANNON. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
I rise in opposition to this amendment. Recently, the food industry has been targeted by a variety of legal claims which allege businesses should pay monetary damages and be subject to equitable remedies based on legal theories of liability for the overconsumption of its legal products.
In our subcommittee hearings last year, we explored the threat the food industry faces from frivolous litigation, the threat to personal responsibility posed by the proliferation of such litigation, and the need for H.R. 339, the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act.
H.R. 339 currently has 119 cosponsors. A similar bill was signed into law by Louisiana Governor Mike Foster on June 2, 2003, with huge bipartisan support. Every Republican in both legislative Chambers voted for the measure, as did 93 percent of Democrats in the Louisiana House and 83 percent of Democrats in the Louisiana Senate.
Recent history shows why similar legislation is necessary at the Federal level. We have seen industries brought to the verge of bankruptcy by frivolous lawsuits seeking billions of dollars. Today we have Ralph Nader comparing fast food companies to terrorists by telling The New York Times that the double cheeseburger is "a weapon of mass destruction." In a hearing before our subcommittee last year, a law professor who helped spearhead lawsuits against the tobacco companies has said of fast food litigation, "If the legislatures won't legislate, then the trial lawyers will litigate."
It is clear that obesity is a problem in America. Equally clear, however, is the simple availability of high-fat food is not a singular or even a primary cause. For example, recent findings drawing on government databases and presented at a scientific conference of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology biological showed that over the past 20 years, teenagers have, on average, increased their caloric intake by 1 percent. During that same time period, the percentage of teenagers who said they engaged in some sort of physical activity for 30 minutes a day dropped by 13 percent. Not surprisingly, teenage obesity over that same 20-year period increased by 10 percent, indicating it is not junk food that is making teenagers overweight, but rather a lack of activity.
In short, it is unlikely that lawsuits against food establishments over their menu offerings will do much, if anything, to make us healthier. On the other hand, such lawsuits will threaten thousands of jobs that are today available to teenagers and other entry-level workers who need those jobs. Further, such lawsuits send the wrong message regarding personal choices and responsibility. Do we want our kids growing up believing it is a restaurant's fault that they are eating too many cheeseburgers?
Besides threatening to erode values of personal responsibility, the legal campaign against the food industry threatens our notion of government. Nationally coordinated lawsuits seek to accomplish through litigation what has not been, and will likely not be, achieved through legislation.
Last year, the House passed H.R. 1036, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act by a large, bipartisan vote. That bill bars frivolous lawsuits against the firearms industry for the misuse of legal products by others. H.R. 339 similarly seeks to bar frivolous lawsuits against the food industry for overconsumption of its legal products by others. It is appropriate for Congress to respond to this growing legal assault on the concept of personal responsibility.
Mr. Chairman, it is not only important, but also fundamental that Americans have access to courts to redress legitimate wrongs and the harms they cause. The trial bar serves an invaluable purpose in helping average Americans gain rightful and proportionate compensation when harm is done. However, frivolous lawsuits such as the ones this legislation seeks to prevent serve only to undermine our legal system and those who truly need its protections.
Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to oppose this amendment and support the underlying bill, H.R. 339.
Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.
I would like to speak in favor of the Scott amendment. The wisdom of the common law has evolved and worked for centuries. It is older than the United States of America. It is bizarre that this House created one exception to the common law in the case of gun manufacturers, now it is trying to create another one in the case of certain food purveyors.
If you can sum up the history of the western jurisprudential system, it is that common law is usually right and statutory interferences with common law is usually wrong.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. ANDREWS. I yield to the gentleman from Virginia.
Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I think we need to review what the amendment actually is. In section 4.3, they define person who can bring these lawsuits as individuals, corporations, companies, but it includes any governmental entity.
The lawsuits we are talking about are lawsuits arising out of, related to, or resulting in injury or potential injury resulting from person's consumption of a qualified product and weight gain, obesity or any health condition that is associated with a person's weight gain or obesity, including, and it goes on. This is overly broad.
Let us just read what the amendment says. It says that the Act does not apply to an action brought by a State agency to enforce a State consumer protection law concerning mislabeling or other unfair or deceptive trade practice. We do not need protection from State attorneys general enforcing our consumer protection laws. I would hope that we adopt the amendment.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore (Mr. Ose). The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott).
The question was taken; and the Chairman pro tempore announced that the ayes appeared to have it.
Mr. KELLER. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. Pursuant to clause 6 of rule XVIII, further proceedings on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) will be postponed.
AMENDMENT NO. 7 OFFERED BY MR. WATT
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore (Mr. Ose). The Clerk will designate the amendment.
The text of the amendment is as follows:
Amendment No. 7 offered by Mr. Watt:
Section 3(a), strike "or State".
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, the amendment that is being offered simply strikes two words from the bill. Those words are "or State."
This is an opportunity for those of us who really believe in the Federalist system in which we operate. Those of us who believe truly in the rights of States to control what happens in their States and in their communities, those who believe truly in States' rights to get it right, I am giving you the opportunity.
If there is a rationale for our involvement in this and if there is something that we should be exercising jurisdiction over, it is what comes into the Federal courts, and not what goes into the State courts. So the effect of this amendment is simply to take out the State court component of this.
I want to confess up front that I think this is a bad idea, whether it is in the Federal court or the State court; so I am going to vote against the bill even if this amendment passes. But for those who believe that this is a good bill, that this is a worthy cause, if you have any belief in the Federalist form of government in which we operate, that States and State judiciaries and legislators have certain powers, then you should be supporting this amendment.
State courts and legislatures are perfectly capable of determining which lawsuits are appropriate and which lawsuits constitute an undesired drain on their resources. Right now, 11 State legislatures, including California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin, the chairman's own State, have introduced or passed legislation to ban some form of obesity-related lawsuits. Some of those States have banned a broader range of cases than this proposed legislation would ban.
H.R. 339, this legislation that we are considering, would displace and disrespect the actions of those State legislatures that have acted and impose a ban on those States that have not perceived a need to enact legislation banning obesity suits.
The bill arrogantly presumes that State court judges are incapable; and I am going to keep saying that over, and over and over again. I have said it a million times; I may say it a million more times before this debate is over. It is arrogant for us to assume that State court judges are incapable of carrying out their judicial responsibilities. Should State court judges determine that any lawsuit lacks merit or appropriate proof, they can dismiss it. If they determine that a case is frivolous, they can dismiss it and sanction the attorneys involved.
The proponents of this bill seek to prevent cases that have already gone through the system and have been dismissed. This bill is a solution in search of a problem, believe me.
If there is a rationale for this bill, and I do not believe there is, we at least ought to respect the Federalist form in which we are operating and limit the application of the bill to cases filed in the Federal court. We are not Big Brother here in this body, and my colleagues have reminded us of that many, many times rhetorically. They say they believe in States' rights. If they do, if you do, my colleagues, please support the Watt amendment.
Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment.
Mr. Chairman, the gentleman from North Carolina and I have a little bit different view of the role of federalism in our country. All I can say is I am happy that his view did not prevail during the great debates on civil rights that occurred in this Chamber and down the hall in the Senate Chamber during the sixties, seventies and eighties, because the notion of States' rights would not have been agreed to by the gentleman from North Carolina.
I think this amendment must be defeated because it would gut the bill and also fail to protect the decisions of State legislatures regarding food policy. I do not think we want to see a single judge in a single State court deciding to establish national policy. We have seen far too much of that, and the Watt amendment would allow that type of judicial misinterpretation to occur in a State court somewhere in this country.
This bill is also about protecting the separation of powers and the legislative prerogatives of the elected representatives at the State level. The amendment would gut those provisions.
The drive by overeaters' personal injuries attorneys to blame those who serve them food and to collect unlimited monetary damages is an attempt to accomplish through litigation that which has not been achieved by legislation and the democratic process.
John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University who helped spearhead lawsuits against tobacco companies, has said, "If the legislatures won't legislate, then the trial lawyers will litigate." National Public Radio, August 8, 2002.
Various courts have described similar lawsuits against the firearms industry for harm caused by the misuse of its products by others as an attempt to "regulate through the medium of the judiciary" and "improper attempts to have the court substitute its judgment for that of the legislature, something which the court is neither inclined to nor empowered to do." Such lawsuits break down the separation of powers between the branches of government.
Large damage awards and requests for injunctive relief have the potential to force the judiciary to intrude into the decision-making process properly within the sphere of another branch of government, namely, State legislatures. That is the intent behind these fast-food lawsuits, to circumvent legislatures, to circumvent the Congress and the popular will of the people who elect us.
Further, Congress has the clear constitutional authority and the responsibility to enact H.R. 339. The lawsuits against the food industry H.R. 339 addresses directly implicate core federalism principles articulated by the United States Supreme Court, which has made clear that "one State's powers to impose burdens on the interstate market is not only subordinate to the Federal power over interstate commerce, but is also constrained by the need to respect the interests of other States."
Congress can, of course, exercise its authority under the Commerce Clause to prevent a few State courts from bankrupting the food industry.
In fast-food lawsuits, personal injury lawyers seek to obtain through the court stringent limits on the sale and distribution of food beyond the court's jurisdictional boundaries. By virtue of the enormous compensatory and punitive damages sought, and because of the types of injunctive relief requested, these complaints in practical effect would require manufacturers of lawfully produced food to curtail or cease all lawful commercial trade in that food in the jurisdictions within which they reside, almost always outside of the States within which the States are brought, to prevent potentially limitless liability. Insofar as these complaints have the practical effect of halting or burdening interstate commerce in food, they seek remedies in violation of the Constitution.
Such personal injury attorneys' claims directly implicate core federalism principles articulated by the Supreme Court in BMW of North America v. Gore, 1996. The Gore case makes clear that "one State's power to impose burdens on the interstate market is not only subordinate to the Federal power over interstate commerce, but is also constrained by the need to respect the interests of other States."
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. The time of the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner) has expired.
(By unanimous consent, Mr. Sensenbrenner was allowed to proceed for 1 additional minute.)
Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, the Supreme Court in Healy v. Beer Institute, 1989, elaborated on these principles concerning the extraterritorial effects as follows: "The critical inquiry is whether the practical effect of the regulation is to control conduct beyond the boundaries of the State. The practical effect of the statute must be evaluated not only by considering the consequences of the law itself, but also by considering how the challenged law may interact with the legitimate regulatory regimes of other States and what effect would arise if one, but many or every, State adopted similar laws. Generally speaking, the Commerce Clause protects against inconsistent laws arising from the projection of one State regulatory regime into the jurisdiction of another State."
So this bill is supported by sound federalism principles, there is a national interest involved, and that is why the amendment should be defeated.
Mr. ANDREWS. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Watt amendment.
Mr. Chairman, I must say with respect to the issue of federalism and the proper role, I think the comparison of this issue to civil rights is completely inapposite. The principle of civil rights is when State legislation or State action violates a fundamental constitutional right, it cannot stand. There is no fundamental constitutional right involved here. This is the power the 10th amendment expressly meant to be reserved to the States, either through their legislatures or their courts.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. ANDREWS. I yield to the gentleman from North Carolina.
Mr. WATT. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding. The gentleman puts it a lot milder than I do.
I am not surprised, but I am extremely insulted, that this piece of crap, this bill, would be put on the same level that our civil rights laws in this country have been put on.
Now, I am not surprised. I knew that was coming, because we have had this discussion with my chairman on several occasions on this floor. But I want you to know that the notion that there are basic constitutional rights that the civil rights laws had to enact to enforce was based on rights that were articulated in the Constitution. The right to vote, and it is a shame that we had to have legislation at the Federal level to make it clear that the right to vote applied to all of our citizens in this country, there is no comparison between this bill and that.
The right to travel on a bus and sit where you want, it is a shame that we had to have Federal legislation to tell the States that they had to enforce that basic human constitutional right.
I am insulted that this piece of legislation, and if I went too far in calling it a piece of crap, I apologize to the Chair. I knew he shuddered when I said that, so maybe that is going too far. But it is an abomination for us to be trying to compare this statute to the civil rights laws.
I am really disappointed that this kind of expansive, unprecedented interpretation of the Commerce Clause would be articulated by the chairman of our committee on the floor of the House of Representatives. Under the theory that has just been advanced, to tie it back to the Commerce Clause, to tie this legislation back to the Commerce Clause, anything could be taken over by the Federal Government. There would not be any State legislatures or State courts. Anything in commerce of any kind could be taken over.
That is not what the Commerce Clause says. And with all due respect, I went to law school too. I took my constitutional law under a guy named Robert Bork. I do not think he would say that is what the Commerce Clause says.
I am flabbergasted that we would be told on this floor that this proposed legislation is sanctioned by the Commerce Clause and that it is anywhere in the ball park close to what the civil rights laws were designed to do.
We ought be ashamed of ourselves. And we ought be ashamed of ourselves for destroying the Federal concept that our Founding Fathers made for us. It would be something else if we were doing it about something that is real. There is not a single pending lawsuit now involved that has not already been dismissed. The States are already acting on this. It is not as if they are ignoring it.
If you were in the State legislature, if you want to go vote on stuff like this, go to the State legislature. Many of us came out of the State legislatures. There are people there that are just as smart, just as intelligent as we are here in this body. For us to insult our State legislators and our State judiciary for some political purpose is unforgivable, in my opinion.
ANNOUNCEMENT BY THE CHAIRMAN PRO TEMPORE
The CHAIRMAN pro tempore. The Chair would urge Members to exercise discipline in vocabulary to preserve the decorum of the House.
Mr. KELLER. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the enthusiasm of the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Watt), and as the author of the bill that was described that way, I can assure you that I take no offense. Sometimes in the heat of passion things come out, so there is no need to apologize to me.
Let me just say this with respect to the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Watt), he is at least consistent. He offered this same amendment in committee, made the same arguments, it was rejected in committee. I urge my colleagues to reject it once again here on the House floor and for the very same reason.