Lies, Damn Lies & GOP Anecdotes

Ronald Reagan, when caught in a lie, would claim he misspoke. His ideological heirs, who now control Congress, don't even bother making excuses. In the past six months the Republicans in Congress have passed laws that would dismantle decades of regulations that protect the health and safety of U.S. citizens. Republicans have promoted this deregulatory agenda through "misstatements of fact," as official fibs were called during the Reagan era. And like Reagan, these elected prevaricators have not been called to account because the national media, consumed with a fear of appearing partisan, has trouble explaining the difference between political opinion and demonstrable fact. Citizens for Sensible Safeguards, a coalition of more than 230 liberal organizations, hopes that Myths & Consequences will help citizens take their elected officials to task. This anthology of tall tales from the 104th Congress, which was released by the group last month, decries a civic discourse that "has degenerated into a contest of who can announce the most egregious injustice perpetuated by federal regulation--whether true or untrue." Gary Bass, the executive director of OMB Watch, a Washington organization that monitors the Office of Management and Budget, chairs the coalition. He acknowledges that all politicians twist the truth some of the time, but contends that the current Republican Congress has crossed a new threshold of mendacity. "False statements aren't just here and there; they have become the core of the debate on the House floor," he asserts. And no one is more blatant than Rep. David McIntosh (R-IN), who sharpened his political teeth in the early `90s as the head of former Vice President Dan Quayle's Council on Competitiveness. On February 23, McIntosh took to the floor to defend the Regulatory Transition Act, which would place a moratorium on federal regulations. He thundered: "Bill Clinton is the Regulator in Chief, leading an army of unelected bureaucrats whose sole job is to churn out red tape that destroys jobs and turns hardworking Americans into common criminals." McIntosh backs up these serious charges with examples that are compelling and persuasive. Unfortunately, not one of them is true. McIntosh has gotten a great deal of media attention with an attack on a new regulation that he claimed was proposed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). As the Indianapolis Star reported, during that February debate McIntosh hoisted up a neon-yellow plastic industrial bucket with a hole. And as the confetti that filled the bucket sprinkled down, McIntosh explained that the CPSC wanted to "require that all buckets have a hole in the bottom of them, so that they can allow water to go through and avoid the danger of somebody falling face down into the bucket and drowning." The fact of the matter was that the CPSC is only requiring that the makers of five-gallon buckets include a warning label. And for good reason. Drowning in five-gallon buckets is the 14th leading cause of death in children under the age of 15. In the past 10 years, some 500 babies have drowned by falling headfirst into such buckets. Even though the CPSC promptly set McIntosh right in a letter released to the public, days later he repeated this misstatement on the op-ed page of the Indianapolis Star. Weeks later, he again reiterated the "leaky bucket" lie in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. To its discredit, the Indianapolis Star, Indiana's newspaper of record, has not once set the record straight. McIntosh is not happy that Myths & Consequences is challenging him on this. According to OMB Watch's Bass, McIntosh's counsel, John Praed, called their office to complain and quibble about the number of dead babies, saying that 250, not 500, babies have drowned in buckets in the last decade. For its part, the CPSC says it can verify 500 deaths. McIntosh also claims that the federal government is trying to put the tooth fairy out of business. He charges that regulations advanced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) "would require that all baby teeth be disposed of as hazardous waste material, rather than given back to the parents to allow the tooth fairy to come back and [take the teeth]." More nonsense. The OSHA regulation McIntosh is referring to is designed to protect health care workers from being exposed to blood-borne diseases like AIDS. OSHA leaves it up to dentists to decide how to dispose of teeth. Dentists are permitted to return teeth as long as it is done with gloves and the teeth are put in a container before they are handed back to the patient. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) charges that the government has sunk as low as regulating the use of dish soap. In April, Hefley took to the floor and, in the throes of deregulatory fever, stated: "OSHA did fine [restaurant owners] for failing to have material safety data sheets on common household products like Joy." No such fines have ever been levied, and OSHA regulations explicitly exempt consumer products that are used for their designed purpose. Other OSHA critics charge that its regulations fly in the face of common sense, actually making it harder for ordinary workers to do the right thing. Rep. Jerry Weller (R-IL), during the debate on the Regulatory Transition Act, said, "One small business was fined $6,000 because an employee violated OSHA rules when he rescued a co-worker trapped under a pile of dirt." He's wrong. OSHA rules allow employees to risk their lives to save a co-worker. Moreover, he misses the point of why OSHA regulates workplace safety. Since 1990, when OSHA's safety standards for dirt trenches were enacted, fatalities from trench collapses have declined by 35 percent. During the March debate on the Private Property Rights Act of 1995, there was a lot of misleading talk about attempts to put the rights of swamps over the rights of people. Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID), a congressional freshman with ties to the militia movement, held up the example of John Pozsgai, a Pennsylvanian whose property rights were being trampled upon by runaway government. Said Chenoweth, "Mr. Pozsgai, he cleaned [the property] up, took 7,000 tires off the property and was immediately charged with criminal violations and hauled off because he had destroyed a wetland by taking tires off his property." She fails to mention that after removing the tires he filled in the wetland, which subsequently caused his neighbors' basements to flood. The Pennsylvania office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took exception to the portrayal of Pozsgai as an aggrieved citizen. Newsweek, for example, falsely reported that Pozsgai was sent to jail for "moving a mass of rusty junk and rotting tires" from a "dry stream bed.' The agency's Edward Perry, in a letter to the editor of Newsweek, explained that Pozsgai "went to jail because he did not obey the law." In exasperation, he concluded, "It would be appropriate for someone to finally print the truth" about Pozsgai's arrest. According to the deregulators in Congress, in addition to jailing hardworking citizens, the federal government has also decided to promote the welfare of rats over that of U.S. citizens. That is why Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) says he is taking aim at the Endangered Species Act. Calvert is particularly upset about the provision that protects the endangered Stephen's kangaroo rat by regulating "disking"--the removal of vegetation around homes to provide a firebreak--in areas where the rats live. As Calvert told his congressional colleagues, the Stephens kangaroo rat has "seized control of Southern California," because federal regulations prohibit property owners from disking around their homes. "The consequence of the Endangered Species Act was disastrous and outright irresponsible," says Calvert. "Fires broke out in Southern California that destroyed 25,000 acres and 29 homes." It is a good story, but not quite accurate. According to a July 1994 General Accounting Office report, the disking prohibition had nothing to do with the loss of homes during the California fire. Further, the federal regulation in question specifically allowed other forms of vegetation removal, such as mowing with light equipment, to create firebreaks. Calvert's real agenda is to dismantle the Endangered Species Act, because it contains a host of regulations that control how the environment can be exploited by the agriculture, construction and resource extraction industries--industries that financed Calvert's 1994 campaign to the tune of $100,749. Which brings up the real agenda of the members of Congress who tell these lies. They are not as concerned about taking government off our backs as ensuring that government is securely in the pocket of their corporate campaign contributors. ' Citizens for Sensible Safeguards can be reached at 1742 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20009. (202) 234-8494.

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