The vote could mean a major boost in funding
for the product safety commission and
harsher penalties for companies that make
hazardous products. A less expansive House
bill, which had industry support
WASHINGTON -- Moving to reverse decades of
limited federal oversight, the Senate voted
Thursday to make sweeping changes to the
government's system of regulating toys,
appliances and thousands of other household
The 79-13 vote could lead to a major
expansion of the Consumer Product Safety
Commission and stiffer penalties for
companies that manufacture or distribute
And it may mean broad new public access to
information about potentially dangerous
products before they are recalled.
"This bill is the most significant product
safety reform measure in recent history,"
said Rachel Weintraub, director of product
safety at the Consumer Federation of
"Americans have been waiting for this
solution to our broken product safety
Manufacturers and retailers last year
recalled more than 400 products, including
millions of Chinese-made toys that contained
lead paint, dangerous magnets or other
The recalls sparked an intense effort on
Capitol Hill to strengthen the Consumer
Product Safety Commission, which has long
had fewer investigative and enforcement
tools than other federal regulatory
agencies, such as the Food and Drug
Administration and the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration.
Senate Democrats worked for months to build
GOP support for increased federal oversight
in the face of stiff industry resistance to
The bill won the support of 33 Republicans,
the two independents and 44 Democrats,
including California Sens. Barbara Boxer and
Thirteen GOP lawmakers voted against the
bill, which some called a gift to trial
"Lawsuits as far as the eye can see,"
predicted Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Presidential candidates Hillary Rodham
Clinton (D-N.Y.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and
Barack Obama (D-Ill.) missed the vote.
The vote sets the stage for potentially
difficult talks as Senate leaders work with
their House counterparts to reconcile the
differences between the bills approved by
the two chambers.
The House bill -- passed unanimously in
December with the blessing of influential
industry groups -- is less expansive than
the Senate legislation.
Thursday's vote also could set up a
confrontation with the White House, which
has expressed strong opposition to several
key provisions of the Senate bill.
The Bush administration, which tried
unsuccessfully last year to put an executive
from the National Assn. of Manufacturers at
the head of the Consumer Product Safety
Commission, presided over a nearly 15% cut
in agency staff between 2001 and 2007.
The legislation approved Thursday could
dramatically reverse that.
The bill authorizes a phased $60-million
increase in funding for the agency to boost
its budget to $142 million by 2015, which,
adjusted for inflation, would put the agency
close to where it was in its heyday in the
The Senate bill would also:
* Create an Internet database where
consumers could post and search for
complaints about potentially dangerous
For safe products without harmful chemicals