NCL symposium examines consumer issues and the next Congress – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

The freshman class of the 113th Congress will feature 12 new Senators and 67 new Representatives. For consumer advocates, this is an opportunity to introduce ourselves to these new lawmakers and develop relationships that can help promote our economic and social justice mission on the Hill. Freshman like Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren have long been heroes to the consumer movement, but others such as Senator-elect Heidi Heitkamp and Members-elect Kevin Cramer, Joseph Kennedy III, and George Holding all have experience in regulatory agencies and in the legal system where consumer issues arise.

The incoming members of the 113th Congress will have a full agenda when it comes to consumer issues. Even before the next Congress, the Lame Duck session of the current 112th Congress is tackling the so-called “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

It is in this context that NCL convened our inaugural Consumer Issues Symposium on Wednesday, November 14 to examine the future of three important consumer issues in the lame duck session and the coming 113th Congress. We chose to focus the event on three issues near and dear to NCL’s heart – food safety, sequestration and privacy. The goal of the event was to examine not only the future prospects for consumer-focused legislation in Congress, but also to highlight the real-world impact of these policy areas on consumers.

For example, the sequestration cuts envisioned as part of the “fiscal cliff” will require numerous federal agencies to significantly scale back their activities. When the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is projected to take an $86 million haircut, what does that mean for the safety of America’s food supply? Likewise, in a scenario where the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program is on track to take a $285 million budget hit, how will consumers living through the cold winter months adjust?

The event, organized in partnership with the law firm of Kelley Drye, was a great success. (Historical note: One of Kelley Drye’s name partners was Nicholas Kelley, son of Florence Kelley, the first General Secretary of NCL). It featured more than a dozen expert speakers from Executive Branch, Congress and advocacy organizations, including FTC Commissioner Julie Brill, FDA Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor and former Congresswoman and CPSC Commissioner Anne Northup. Photos from the event are currently viewable on NCL’s Facebook page.