By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
The Consumer Federation of America held its 2009 Consumer Assembly this past weekend. CFA was formed in the 1970s by consumer leaders like Rhoda Karpatkin of Consumers Union who felt that consumer organizations needed a kind of federation on the model of the AFL-CIO to speak with one voice on the broad swath of consumer issues across the nation. The National Consumers League held a seat during the first years of CFA’s activism.
Last week’s consumer confab comes amidst recent seismic changes in Washington. We have a new Administration that is more consumer-friendly, a new Congress that promises to be more inclined to support pro-consumer legislation, and a newly invigorated consumer movement that has never worked so hard in its life! The CFA gathering featured appearances by key congressional figures including: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), talking about Obama’s intention to make the private health insurance companies part of our system of providing health care to all; Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), lamenting the lack of a Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; and product safety and Senate Banking Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT), reiterating the importance of the consumer voice as we see the nation’s financial service industry in a free-fall.
Reform is very much on the agenda on the range of consumer issues from food safety to health care to eradicating lead in children’s toys, to overhauling our financial service industry and tightening up our securities markets. This is a unique moment in history for consumer groups. NCL is supporting tighter regulation of financial services, a cap of 36 percent cumulative on interest consumers may be forced to pay, crackdown on payday lending, requiring the Cost Approach when evaluating a home’s worth, a consumer advisor to the President with an office in the White House, and vigorous enforcement of the laws from the FDA to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Though there are some awesome challenges, I believe this is a great time for consumers. As the President’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been known to say, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” I hope consumer groups take his advice!