Federal Trade Commission

By Steve Suitts

Vol. 2, No. 5, 1980, pp. 28

With Southerners leading the charge, the U.S. Senate soon will consider legislation already passed by the House of Representatives subjecting the Federal Trade Commission's regulatory actions to a one-house Congressional veto and proposing to limit severely areas in which the FTC can act. In an overwhelming vote of 321 to 63, the House approved on November 27 an amendment sponsored by Rep. Elliot Levitas of Georgia that would halt any FTC action by vote of one chamber of Congress if the other chamber did not object within 30 days. Levitas praised the House vote as an end to "government by bureaucratic fiat."

Rep. Bob Eckhart of Texas, one of the few Southerners opposing the amendment, argued against limiting the authority of the-only agency that we can call a consumer agency in the entire U.S. government." The Carter administration also voiced opposition to the one-house veto as an unconsitutional invasion of executive authority.

As a compromise, the House version provides for an expedited judicial review of any challenge to the constitutionality of the congressional veto. Several national consumer groups have threatened such a challenge if the law is passed.

Only five other Southerners in the House joined Rep. Eckhart in opposing the amendment. Of the 108 representatives from the South, only six voted against the veto amendment. They were three Congressmen from Texas Eckhart, Henry Gonzales, and Mickey Leland Herbert Harris of Virginia, Dawson Mathis of Georgia, and Bill Dickinson of Alabama. The votes of Republican Dickinson and Rep. Mathis were surprising since both have received low ratings from consumer groups for their past voting records.

A strong FTC regulatory action relating to several industries in the country in the past few years has fueled increasing controversy on Capitol Hill. One of those industries the association of funeral homes was able to secure another amendment to the FTC authorization earlier in November exempting that industry from all FTC regulation. Hence, if it becomes law, the House legislation will stop the pending FTC rule requiring funeral homes to provide itemized funeral costs to their customers.

On the Senate side, where the House version now rests, a similar bill has already been reported by the Senate Commerce committee. While the legislation has no one-House veto provision, it would restrict agency proceedings presently underway in areas relating to children's advertisement and used car sales.

Alabama Sen. Howell Heflin is also pushing for limits on the FTC ability to order divestiture in some anti-trust proceedings. If passed, Heflin's amendments would halt present FTC action against the Exxon Corporation and several cereal companies.

The full Senate bill is sponsored by Wendell Ford of Kentucky, the chairman of the Senate commerce consumer sub-committee, who says he opposes a Congressional veto. Ford prefers to limit the areas in which the FTC can take any action. For example, his legislation would prohibit FTC regulation of insurance companies.

Senate action on the FTC bill is expected before the spring.