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EDITORIAL: Waxman stifles dissent

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a sham of a hearing today on the deleterious effects of the misguided Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). The hearing is a sham because Chairman Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, has refused multiple requests for testimony from small-business owners, consumers or anybody other than government officials. Instead, the sole witness will be new Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Inez Moore Tenenbaum, who started her job less than three months ago.

When the legislation at issue is creating havoc among those being regulated, it's hardly constructive to hear only from the regulator. And when the regulator barely has had time to find her bearings, the value of her testimony, unleavened by any other viewpoints, is diminished even further.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act sets extremely low limits on the lead content of any component of any product sold primarily for use by children, bans a common ingredient used to soften certain plastics even though multiple independent tests have concluded that the chemical is harmless, and makes it a criminal violation even for charities or garage-sale participants to resell any product ever recalled by its manufacturer. It has cost charities such as the Salvation Army dearly and has caused bookstores and libraries to pull treasured children's classics off their shelves.

As far back as March, staffers of the commission itself wrote to Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, urging multiple changes to the new law. Among the many changes they suggested are: first, to make the law not retroactive to products manufactured before the law was passed and, second, to allow the commission to issue common-sense exceptions to the law for certain products (mini all-terrain vehicles, for instance) clearly not likely to cause lead ingestion.

The Handmade Toy Alliance wrote to Mr. Waxman on Sept. 4 asking for a broader hearing, saying its members "do not believe [Mrs. Tenenbaum] can represent the full scope of CPSIA's impact on responsible American small business." As far back as March 6, the two Republican leaders on the full committee and relevant subcommittee -- Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas and Rep. George Radanovich of California, respectively -- wrote to Mr. Waxman asking for a meeting so the "committee can spend a morning listening for the first time to honest people who don't belong to influential organizations and who can't afford to hire lobbyists, experts or spokespeople."

On Sept. 8, the two congressmen wrote to the chairman again: "We are concerned, however, that a hearing presenting only the opinions of Chairman Tenenbaum, without a second panel of witnesses representing family-owned retailers, tribal stores, toymakers and other affected parties, is very unlikely to cover the surprising and distressing practical problems that have arisen in connection with the implementation of the new law."

Mr. Waxman never responded to that letter. "The Energy and Commerce Committee is aware of the letter and is taking the request under consideration," a committee spokesman e-mailed The Washington Times yesterday.

Somehow, we doubt an invitation to outside parties will be issued by the meeting's 10 a.m. start. A follow-up hearing is warranted. As the old expression goes, the committee ought to "get the lead out" by holding that hearing soon.

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