Congress Gives Consumers a Gift, But Some Want to Take it Back

U.S. Capitol BuildingConsumers ought to have a lot of friends. After all it's our money that fuels business in this country - and a lot of other countries, for that matter.

In about a week, the government is slated to unveil a tool for consumers that catalogs safety concerns and complaints about certain products. The database, which was approved by Congress a few years ago, will allow consumers to make better informed decisions about what the products they buy.

To little surprise, there's a move in Congress to try to undo it at the last minute. Like sharks sensing blood, industry is circling for the kill. Why? Because big business is afraid that knowledge is power -- and they don't want consumers to have knowledge or power.Of course, they don't paint it that way. Instead, it's presented as Democrats vs. Republicans. Jobs vs. government.

Let's be really clear here: The industries that are supposedly fighting for jobs are the very same ones that happily manufacture most of their products in China. And guess what? Many of those products will probably end up in this database.

Some very large companies claim they're afraid the database will be used to plant false information, that it will be a tool of lawyers intent on suing them and of other companies out to sabotage them. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is charged with managing the database, says it has built in steps to help avoid that sort of thing.

Right now, the brilliantly flawed product safety system that we have makes us all wait an inordinate amount of time before we find out about even the most lethal of products. So much deference is given to companies that we leave it up to them to be honest about the problems. Consumers sometimes find out about safety issues months or years after the company first learns of them and has already negotiated a solution. If they wait way too long they risk a rare penalty.

If greed didn't exist, perhaps that system would be just fine. But it does and the system needs help. That means consumers can use some help.

Publishing information about faulty products isn't likely to punish honest companies, but it does out the ones who try to hide and who have manipulated the system for years.

Who should care about this database? Consumers who want to buy quality products that are safe. Parents in particular should embrace this database. Tea Party parents. Communist parents. Libertarian parents. It doesn't matter. If you have a small child, would you like to know immediately that the stroller you're pushing has a tendency to collapse and hurt the child inside or would you rather wait a year or more for a recall?

Unfortunately, a freshman congressman has decided this is the fight to make while the federal budget is under scrutiny. (The database looks like it may launch since the government budget was temporarily reauthorized, so the battle will be to keep it going).

Hopefully, other members of Congress care more about consumers than corporations and come to remember that big business might speak with money, but it takes voters to keep them in office -- people who deserve to be empowered in their buying decisions.

If you want the right to use this database, write to your representative in Congress and your senators and tell them that it's important to know what products might pose a risk to your family and that people are smart enough to understand what they're looking at.

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