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Consumers lost out in the 109th Congress

Monday, December 11, 2006

Consumers Lost Out in the 109th Congress

Washington, DC—The 109th Congress is over – and when you examine the record American consumers don’t have all that much to show for it. Important measures addressing healthcare, finances, energy, food, product safety, and other critical consumer issues have been left on the table for the next Congress to address.
The few consumer-related victories worthy of mention are:
Food Uniformity – Consumer and food safety groups succeeded in stopping Congress from enacting legislation that would have undermined state and local food safety laws and regulations.
Telecom Consumer Protections Preserved – Consumer, media and telecom groups helped preserve consumer protections by preventing Congress from passing sweeping telecom legislation that would have, among other things, eliminated requirements that companies providing cable offer their services to the entire community and charge consumers the same price for the same services.
Dietary Supplements – Congress passed a bill requiring manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements and over-the-counter drugs to report serious adverse events to public health officials. Unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements are not required to be proven safe and effective before being marketed. Consumers Union will continue to urge Congress to require adequate pre-market safety testing of dietary supplements and to give the FDA more authority to remove dangerous supplements from the market once safety issues arise.
Pretexting Phone Records— Congress took a first step to curb the deceptive tactics used to obtain consumers’ private telephone records by passing a bill to impose criminal penalties on such practices.
Here are some of the critical issues the 109th Congress left on the table:
Healthcare – Congress failed to make our nation’s drug safety system more effective and healthcare more affordable. They did not require drug makers to make public all clinical trial studies that could indicate dangerous side effects of medications, fix the “doughnut hole” coverage gap in the Medicare prescription drug program, or remove the ban preventing price negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry. They also failed to address the very real problem that 46 million Americans, 9 million of whom are children, do not have any health insurance coverage.
Financial Security – Congress did nothing to address threats to our financial security. They did not increase protections against the theft of sensitive personal information or make companies and government agencies tell us whenever they fail to protect such data. They did nothing to prevent credit card companies from adding costly fees and charges to credit card bills, and ignored problems with consumer checking accounts including long check holds.
Energy – Congress failed to tackle our nation’s energy problems. They did not set clear targets to reduce consumption, improve fuel efficiency standards, or adequately fund the development of alternative energy sources. Congress did nothing to address pricing abuse in the energy markets, including the electronic trading of energy futures, which can artificially inflate prices.
Telecommunications and media – Congress did not address the anti-competitive practices of cable TV and phone companies that drive up our rates and threaten Internet freedom.
They ignored the critical issue of ensuring a robust and independent media in this nation by failing to properly oversee the Federal Communications Commission which could adopt policies allowing media conglomerates to control more newspapers and TV stations in local markets.
Food Safety – Although Congress was thwarted in its attempt to enact legislation that would have undermined state and local food safety laws, they failed to strengthen federal regulatory oversight over our food and product safety systems. For instance, they did not move to create a single federal food agency that could act quickly to prevent and deal with e coli outbreaks and the like, leaving instead the patchwork of federal agencies and weak oversight that exists now.
Product Safety – Congress did not protect our children from tragic accidents that occur in and around cars by requiring automakers adopt existing technologies that can prevent vehicle back-overs and power window strangulations. Congress also failed to pass a bill to help consumers avoid pool and spa entrapments and drownings.

Contact: Susan Herold, 202.462.6262 ext. 1119 or Jennifer Fuson, ext. 1121