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Public Statements

Consumer Product Safety Commission

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION -- (Senate - December 11, 2007)

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I want to acknowledge my colleagues who have been helping on S. 2045. These are in alphabetical order, not in the order of work done. Everybody has worked a lot on different parts of this bill. They are Senators Brown, Casey, Durbin, Harkin, Inouye, Klobuchar, Menendez, Bill Nelson, and Schumer. They have all helped craft this legislation relating to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Because we are now in the holiday season, naturally, public attention is focused on consumer product safety. I had come today prepared to ask unanimous consent to try to move to this legislation. However, last week, Thursday, I met with Al Hubbard at the White House in a very constructive meeting to talk about some of the areas of disagreement on the legislation, as it came out of the Senate Commerce Committee. It was a very constructive meeting, very frankly. I hope, in the end, we will consider that a very productive meeting. We don't know yet if there is a meeting of the minds, but I am cautiously optimistic that the White House is starting to engage in this very important issue to this country and to the families of America.

Let's talk for a moment about the Consumer Product Safety Commission. For a lot of people, the CPSC is just one of these ``alphabet soup'' agencies, and they don't know what the CPSC does. But I will tell you, it touches every American's life every day. It is in the small things that we use, such as batteries, coffeemakers, lawnmowers, toys, and baby cribs.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is there to make sure these products are safe for people in my State of Arkansas to buy and for people all over this country to buy and use. One of the things the Consumer Product Safety Commission should do is give people in this country--including parents, when it comes to toys--peace of mind to know the toys they purchase and other products they purchase meet American safety standards.

This bill we are talking about today, S. 2045, was called recently by the Wall Street Journal ``the most significant consumer safety legislation in a generation.'' I think that accurately sums up the nature of our legislation. It is consumer safety reform legislation. It is very significant, very comprehensive.

Our efforts in reforming the CPSC predate a lot of the recalls we heard about this summer. We have been working on this all year in the subcommittee. Basically, the CPSC now looks after 15,000 separate consumer products. Every year, there are about, roughly, 27,000 deaths in this country caused by consumer products that are faulty. There are 33.1 million people injured every year through consumer products that the CPSC regulates. So this is an agency that is a public safety agency, a good Government agency.

Unfortunately, the CSPC is completely overwhelmed today. I believe the Senate, the House, and the President should all work together to reauthorize this agency and put it back together again.

Let me give some examples from this year alone. This year there have been 37 million products recalled. Some people may say: Gosh, it is working because all these products have been recalled. First, a lot of those products should never have been imported in the first place. A lot of them were recalled by the manufacturers, not the Government. In any event, we have seen stories about lead-coated Big Bird, Elmo, and Barbie accessories, and we have seen collapsing cribs and kerosene-filled toy eyeballs. We have seen building toys with small, very powerful, magnets that, when kids ingest them, cause problems. We have seen craft toys that contain the date rape drug. That is unbelievable, but we have seen in this country a craft set, or a craft toy, that contains the date rape drug. These products should never be in the marketplace to begin with.

Let me talk about the status quo for a moment. The status quo today, with this flood of imports coming into this country, is completely unacceptable. We should not stand idly by and allow these products to saturate our markets. There have been stories in the last few days about charities and charitable giving. One of the great organizations during this time of year is the U.S. Marine Corps. They do the Toys for Tots Program. They have been doing it for many years. Even when I was a kid, it was a big deal because there were always kids in the community less fortunate than I was. We would gather our toys around our house and take them down to a drop station, wherever it may be, and the Marines would sort them out and deliver them to kids who needed toys on Christmas morning or during the holiday season.

One of my staff members, Jason Smedley, is a marine. Yesterday, he went to DC to volunteer on the Marine Corps Toys for Tots, the big disbursing office. Unfortunately, what he found was that the donations to Toys for Tots are way down this year because parents and other donors don't have confidence in the toys they are giving because there might be something wrong with them.

Also, you find, as Jason told me, at the Toys for Tots location in Washington, DC, they have three-ring binders with all kinds of toy recall information in them. Every toy that comes in, they go through that book to make sure that toy hasn't been recalled. Does that sound efficient to anyone? No. That means the CPSC has not been able to do its job and protect our marketplace from these dangerous toys.

There was another story in our local paper, the Arkansas Democratic Gazette, yesterday where toy recalls have hurt instate charities, the locally based charities. You see the same story there, where donations are down. It has been a very hard season for those people who are in that toy distribution operation during the holiday season.

There is a great leader in Arkansas, Hezekiah Steward. He is a reverend, and he runs something called the Watershed Human Development Center. People in our State call it the Watershed Project. He tries to meet the needs of the most needy in the Little Rock area. He does a great job. When I was Attorney General, we had a program and we tried to donate as many toys as we could to Watershed and also to Toys for Tots. We tried to help the Watershed because they are touching people in the community that a lot of times fall through the cracks. Again, Hezekiah Steward is in that article yesterday in the Arkansas Democratic Gazette, saying the donations were down and they are having to screen the toys. It is basically a big mess.

In addition to that, I have talked to parents and grandparents in Arkansas, and they are telling me the same thing. They are saying: This holiday season, when we want to buy toys, we don't know what to trust anymore. If it says ``made in China,'' we don't buy it. That is not a good screening process. Hopefully, most of the toys in the marketplace are safe today, but the public has lost confidence in the system we have now, and we in the Senate, in the U.S. House, and also in the White House need to do a much better job of giving the Consumer Product Safety Commission the tools it needs.

Let me talk a little bit about the Consumer Product Safety Commission and help lay out the problem. Here on this chart we see something that is very revealing. We see on the top chart the imports coming into this country. What we see on the bottom chart is the Consumer Product Safety Commission's staffing level year by year. One thing you will notice--this is very clear, and the numbers are unmistakable--is that starting in 1974, you see the general trend; it goes up and down a little bit, but the general trend is for imports to increase coming into this country. We all know that. Everybody in this body knows we have seen imports increase dramatically in the United States in the last few years. This is borne out on the chart.

Unfortunately, as the imports are going up, the staff at the CPSC is going down. You can see these numbers. Again, they are unmistakable. This is an agency in distress. If you look at what it was at its high versus what it is today, the numbers are unmistakable. The problem with the numbers is, when you see the low numbers like this on the staffing level, when you understand the situation their lab is in, where it is dilapidated and antiquated, and they are losing many people through attrition, you understand all the problems the agency has and that it is totally overwhelmed. When you look at this number, which is at an all-time low, and imports are at an all-time high, you know we have a problem.

In this body, we need to address that problem. There is no better time to address it than right now. Let me talk for a moment about what I think we need at the CPSC. We need a robust and proactive watchdog agency. We need to prevent toxic toys from ever landing on our shores and on our shelves. We need to be able to respond very quickly when there is a problem. We need to have a system in place where we can punish the bad actors and punish the repeat offenders.

Again, I have been talking to the White House, and I want to be cautiously optimistic about what the White House told me on the phone and in meetings, but we all need to work together to try to get this done.

Let me run through some of the things that S. 2045 does. Basically, what we are doing is taking this agency that needs an overhaul, and we are overhauling it. What we are trying to do is increase the staff by nearly 20 percent over time. We are trying to upgrade their testing labs. We are trying to increase their agents at ports of entry, again, so the dangerous products never enter this country. We are trying to allow the States' attorneys general to be more like cops on the beat and help the CPSC enforce the laws in all 50 States, not just in one centralized location at the CPSC itself. We want to increase the civil fines and the criminal penalties. Also, as part of this, we want to do our dead level best to streamline the recall process. It takes too long, it is too secretive, and there are many examples of people dying as discussions are going on between the manufacturers and the CPSC on how a recall will be conducted. This is very important.

This bill bans lead in children's products. I think that is very important for the American public to understand. Right now, there is not a ban on lead in children's products. We know it is dangerous, and that is well documented. Our doctors, medical researchers, and scientists have told us that. So we need to ban lead in children's products.

This bill also allows the CPSC to select recall remedies. It doesn't leave it up to the manufacture or the bad actors. Not all manufacturers or retailers are bad. In fact, the supermajority of them are not. They are trying to do what is right.

At the end of the day, the CPSC needs to make decisions that are in the public interest--not some of these manufacturers and retailers and distributors, et cetera, and what is in their own corporate interests. We need a watchdog agency that will be there to protect the public interest.

This bill increases public disclosure. That is important because most parents have heard something on the news or read a little something in the paper, but they really don't have an easy way to know what is being recalled or exactly when it gets recalled. We want more public disclosure, and we want it to happen quicker.

Also, regarding children's products, we want a third party process, where a third party will certify that those products meet U.S. safety standards.

We have that in a lot of other areas, such as electronics.

There are a lot of third-party certification processes that exist in the marketplace. We need that for children's products.

The last two or three things the bill does is it improves the tracking labels
on children's products. When we get a toy, and they say there is a recall, say, on a certain kind of doll, there may be 10 varieties of that doll. We may have bought a doll made a year ago and it has been in a warehouse. We don't know. We want a better labeling and tracking system.

We want to provide whistleblower protections. If there are people out there who know there is wrongdoing and somebody is covering it up--we see this in other contexts--we want to allow that whistleblower to come forward and not be punished for doing what is right.

The last point I wish to mention is the bill prohibits the sale of recalled products. Again, a lot of people in this country may be shocked to know that in many circumstances--not all--but in many circumstances, we see recalled products still for sale on the open market. Parents would be shocked to know that fact, but it is true.

We are trying to do our best, give our best effort to have a serious and fundamental reform of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

One more point in closing, and that is, there are two major goals we are trying to accomplish with this legislation. First, we are trying to rebuild the agency. That is very important for the functioning of that agency. As I said before, it is overwhelmed. I showed some charts. There are many others I can point out to show how overwhelmed this agency is. First and foremost, we want to rebuild the agency. And second--and this point flows from the first point--we want to restore public confidence in the marketplace. We don't want to be at the next holiday season and moms and dads are coming up to me in Arkansas and coming up to my colleagues all over the country saying: Should I buy toys for my children and grandchildren this year? That is what I hear when I go back home.

People are concerned, they are scared, they are uncertain about the American marketplace, and that is too bad. We do not need that to happen. We need our people to have confidence in the marketplace in this country.

I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in the House as well and in the White House, I ask everyone to give this legislation a serious look. We would like to move it forward this month, before the end of this year, during this holiday season. I know there are some folks who expressed interest in trying to help get that done. I am available any day, any night. My staff is available. We definitely want to work with whomever is willing to work to get the Consumer Product Safety Commission reauthorization done.

I yield the floor.


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