OUCH! The Pajama Game

What matters more to this Congress--pajama safety standards that have saved dozens of children from deadly burns over the past 25 years or the generous campaign contributions made by the cotton industry?In 1970, 60 children died from burns suffered when their pajamas caught on fire. Then the consumer movement successfully pressured manufacturers to make kids' pajamas from more flame-resistant materials than cotton. As a result, by 1991 the annual death-toll had dropped ten-fold.In 1996, the Consumer Product Safety Commission decided to relax the flammability standard for children's pajamas, allowing manufacturers to sell pajamas made from cotton as long as they are snug-fitting, and thus less likely to brush against an open flame or hot surface. (Between 200 and 300 kids a year are treated in emergency rooms for burns related to loose-fitting sleepwear.)The cotton industry applauded the move, but firefighters and trauma care providers saw danger. "This is a grand experiment to burn America's children," said Andrew McGuire, executive director of the Trauma Foundation in San Francisco.Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) wants to force the commission to reinstate the old safety standard. In late June, as a member of the appropriations committee, she attached a measure doing so onto the bill funding the Veterans Administration and Department of Housing and Urban Development.But then, cotton lobbyists started tugging on the threads that tie them to their allies in Congress. According to reports in the industry newsletter Cotton's Week and in The Washington Post, these include Henry Bonilla (R-Tex.), C. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Larry Combest (R-Tex.), John Cooksey (R-La.), John Linder (R-Ga.), Charles "Chip" Pickering (R-Miss.), W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) and William M. "Mac" Thornberry (Tex.). (These eight boll weevils have harvested a total of $52,862 in campaign contributions from the cotton industry since 1995, a hefty share of the three-quarters of a million given by Big Cotton overall.) "Responding to [the National Cotton Council's] request," Cotton's Week reported in mid-July, these members "positioned themselves to be able to move to eliminate [the DeLauro] provision from [the] appropriations bill."Round one thus went to Big Cotton, which succeeded in getting the House Rules Committee to strike DeLauro's bill on procedural grounds. Round two sort of went the other way, when the whole House adopted, on a voice vote, a DeLauro provision that prevents the CPSC from spending any money to enforce its relaxed safety rule. Unfortunately, the commission thinks that this may now prevent it from enforcing any of its flammability standards for pajamas. The matter will now be decided in a House-Senate conference committee. "The cotton industry is still lobbying hard against this," says one House staffer involved in the battle. "We will have to fight like hell."

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