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Senate Should Move Forward with Confirmation Votes on Buerkle, Others

With the 2018 election behind us, it’s time to look for opportunities to advance freedom and economic well-being. I don't expect much to happen congressionally given the divided chambers, but that does not mean policy changes can’t happen administratively within federal agencies and departments. For example, I have recommended changes to counterproductive or dysfunctional Environmental Protection Agency programs, such as the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) and its Safer Choice program, as well as ending federal grants to the United Nation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

However, the backlog of Trump administration nominations to various federal agencies and departments is considerable, and that means it’s hard to get things done. An article in Lifezette pointed this out last September:

Statistics from the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization that tracks presidential appointments, suggest Trump has a point [in criticizing the slow pace of appointee confirmations]. The Senate so far has confirmed 471 out of 864 nominations for executive branch jobs. That 54.5 percent confirmation rate is far below those of the past four presidents.

The worst among the previous four was George W. Bush, who saw 71.7 percent of his nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency. He had a particularly high number of failed nominees; 132 either withdrew or had their nominations rejected by the Senate at the same point in time.

The Senate also has taken longer to act on Trump’s nominees. Despite Republican control of the upper chamber, it has taken an average of 89 days to confirm the president’s nominees. That is 10 days longer than President Barack Obama’s nominees and far more [than] Bush, his father or Bill Clinton.

To top it off, the Trump administration has not submitted as many names as they could or should, perhaps because of frustrations related to failed appointments and a sluggish Senate response. But now is the time to act, and the Senate is in a good position to move these forward in early 2019.

The Senate can start by approving Trump’s nomination of Ann Marie Buerkle, a former New York Republican congresswoman, to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC is run by five commissioners, each of which serve seven-year terms, and federal law requires that no more than three commissioners can be from one political party. Before Trump took office, CPSC had three Democratic commissioners, one of whom served as the chairman, along with Buerkle and one other Republican.

In February 2017, Trump appointed Buerkle as chairman and also nominated her for a second seven-year term, which was supposed to officially start in October 2018. But the Senate has yet to vote on these actions. In addition, changes at the commission hobbled her ability to accomplish much with the departure of two commissioners since then, one Republican and one Democrat. But Trump did appoint, and the Senate confirmed, two Republicans to fill those seats during the second half of this year. Now it’s time to move forward and finalize Buerkle’s appointment. If the Senate fails to act, Buerkle can only serve one year after the expiration of her term, giving the Senate until October 2019.

Opposition to her appointment simply reflects partisan politics. For example, Marietta S. Robinson, a former CPSC commissioner who vacated her spot last May, claims Buerkle should not be confirmed because she’s supposedly too lenient on industry. In reality, it’s Robinson and other Democratic commissioners’ anti-industry biases that prevent them from acting objectively. They take an adversarial approach toward businesses, imposing regulations as a matter of course. It seems not to have occured to them that businesses have no interest in harming their customers.

Buerkle apparently recognizes that consumer safety should be a win-win for business and consumers, and hence she has focused on collaborative approaches that solve problems quicker and more efficiently than the heavy (and slow) hand of government regulation. That does not mean she isn’t willing to take tough stands, even if some businesses don’t agree with her approach. The Wall Street Journal reports: “Ms. Buerkle has shown she can be tough on business. Earlier this year, she voted for the commission’s more-than-$25 million fine on off-road vehicle maker Polaris, the agency’s highest-ever civil penalty.” 

Buerkle has also proved she’s willing to take courageous stands, even when activist groups peddle junk science and promote media hype about an issue. For example, she rightly opposed an activist petition calling on CPSC to ban an entire class of flame-retardant chemicals. The activist effort was based on junk science about the chemicals’ risks and if CPSC had imposed a ban, it could have actually led to increased fire risks. The proposed ban of an entire class of chemicals is clearly absurd, and CPSC staff agreed with Buerkle that it was not warranted. But the three Democratic commissioners at the time voted last fall to proceed with a rulemaking anyway. You can read more about that here.

It’s time for the Senate to get to work and move ahead with nominations, starting with Ann Marie Buerkle. She is more than well qualified for the job and certainly would advance a rational, pro-consumer agenda.