By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Last Friday, May 1, a number of national of consumer groups were invited to meet with White House staff to discuss our priorities for the coming legislative season. If you think about it, much of what has occupied the new Obama Administration is directly related to consumer concerns: the housing foreclosure crisis, rising credit card debt, and a host of unfair lending practices by many banks issuing the cards. With the recall of peanuts and peanut butter a few months ago, food safety has become another top priority. And the Act passed last year, reforming product safety law and regulation after children’s toys were found to have excessive levels of lead needs implementation.
Our groups have a lot of expertise and a variety of concerns. Last December our groups issued a platform laying out many of these in a six point Consumer Platform covering food and product safety, health care reform, financial services, access to the courts, energy, and restoring the office of consumer affairs in the White House to give consumers a voice at the highest levels. We were pleased to have the chance to discuss these with senior White House staff.
I used my five minutes describing the National Consumers League’s Medication Adherence Campaign, highlighted our LifeSmarts financial literacy and consumer education competitions for teens, and talked about NCL’s Fraud Center, our work on child labor issues and close working relationship with unions, tying together the issues of workers and consumers.
The groups together expressed appreciation to President Obama for using his bully pulpit to bring banks to the White House and asking them for “fair and transparent” rules and to reform some of the most odious practices – like using low, teaser interest rates to draw consumers in and then doubling those rates within weeks of issuing the card, allowing consumers to exceed their credit limits, then imposing excessive rates, or charging consumers who pay their bills by phone or Internet. Last week the House of Representatives delivered a powerful message to the industry – by a vote of 357 to 70, with 107 Republicans voting in favor, the House passed the Credit Cardholders Bill of Rights, which addresses some of the worst practices. The Senate is set to act this week.
White House staff promised that we will soon see a nominee to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates product safety, including the safety of toys and other baby products and badly needs new leadership. Among the other issues we addressed were the need for broad based assistance to homeowners facing disclosure, payday loans and restoration of usury limits on loans, auto safety, consumer fraud, securities regulation, and protections for low income, military and immigrant communities that are often targets of fraud.
Together, our groups represent the interest of millions of consumers across America. It was satisfying to find an open door in this White House and to have the chance to outline our concerns about the host of issues facing consumers in the United States today.