Thursday, January 08, 2009

While We Were In an Election-Induced Stupor Last Year

There's an excellent reason why we should outlaw general elections in this country: we simply can't afford to take our eyes off of Congress, even for 24 short months (give or take). Seems that while we were obsessing over which under-qualified, party-betraying candidate should get our vote, Congress and our very-lame duck President slipped a fast one by us.

It's H.R. 4040, titled "Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008," and it's about to put a hefty chunk of Americans out of business on February 10th of this year.

In fact, this one slid through so neatly that it barely made a ripple on the conference vote. Out of 535 possible votes, it garnered only 3 "nays," while 8 voted "present" or abstained. That included Senators McCain, Obama, and Clinton. I believe President Bush would have signed it even without the veto-proof support this one received.

Now, don't get me wrong: there are plenty of reasons to upgrade our product safety standards. The lead-based paint scares coming from China a while back were sufficient to light a sizeable fire underneath a normally do-nothing-or-at-least-do-it-incorrectly Congress. Import standards have been lax for decades, and innocent people suffer as a result. Lead poisoning is still a leading cause of permanent injury or death among children in this country and is therefore nothing to take lightly.

The problem, however, is what happens when you take a typical government reaction to such problems and churn out legislation quickly and without regard for consequences. Such is the case with H.R. 4040. The new standards — which include stringent, not to mention extremely expensive testing requirements — will overwhelm your typical small business owner. Reactions guaged by this report from are typical. The cost of testing for lead has been quoted at anywhere from $75 to $400 per article (think: one book). As one retailer put it, "There's a big difference between me and Wal-Mart or Toys 'R' Us."

Hardest hit, of course, will be the thrift and consignment stores. My family has benefitted, both directly and indirectly, from thrift stores over the years. My sister-in-law is the queen of thrifters in our family circle, and we have been handing clothes back and forth since our Jelly Woodyette was born nearly twelve years ago. But since we can't certify that our hand-me-downs are lead free, this law pretty much makes it illegal to continue that practice.

So, as is typical with our United States Congress (motto: Never Got It Right So Far; Probably Never Will), we now have a law that will put thousands of Mom and Pop operations permanently out of business, fatten the pockets of the testing labs and the special interests that backed this legislation, and turn our landfills into retail graveyards. All because some greedy importers didn't keep their ethical eyes on the ball.

Go team.

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