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-..7111F:11,401114 III 111111111111111111111111111111 14 Consumer class action HR 3816 pitted two Texans against each other in a floor fight. Through his committee work \(Consumer Protection fully added a new provision to the Federal Trade Act amendments that granted consumers the right to file class action suits against firms found in violation of FTC fair trade rules. Had Eckhardt’s provision eventually made it onto the books, individual consumers would have had a straight shot at companies that defraud them. No longer would they have had to depend solely on foot-dragging regulatory agencies for protection and redress. Backed by business interests, Bob Krueger undid Eckhardt’s good work by winning adoption of an amendment during floor debate on the FTC bill to delete Eckhardt’s section. The House went along with Krueger, 281-125. Companies like Dow Chemical, Bristol-Myers, and Sears lobbied heavily against Eckhardt’s reform \(Obs., Sept. shoppers to file frivolous lawsuits. \(Since it permitted litigation only after the FTC had issued a ruling on a given case, the possibility of consumer abuse of the 19 Texas members, missed an easy chance here to give significant help to consumers without inconveniencing fair-minded businesses. Eckhardt, Brooks and Jordan are the only Texans earning a star. 15 Medical fraud Recent investigations uncovered widespread abuses of the Medicare and Medicaid programs by doctors and medical institutions, but now, thanks to the passage of the Medicare-Medicaid Fraud bill, health-care providers who cheat the poor and the old will face much tougher penalties. By an overwhelming majority-362-5the House voted to increase fines for bribery, kickbacks and and to hike possible prison sentences to quires more disclosure of information from medical institutions, including details of their financial relationships with subcontractors. San Antonio’s Henry Gonzalez was the only Texan who failed to earn a star here. 16 Consumer cooperatives By a one-vote margin, the House approved creation of a National Consumer Cooperative Bank. The bill sets aside $500 million in federal funds for lowinterest, long-term loans to launch food, housing, medicine and auto repair cooperatives. It also makes available $250 million for a Self-Help Development Fund to help the urban poor start cooperatives. Business interests and banks led the opposition to this old form of small, consumer-owned enterprise, charging that with so much assistance from Washington, it constituted governmentfinanced competition. Consumer interests countered that the government has long financed agricultural co-ops; that consumer co-ops generally exist because of the failure of established businesses to meet certain needs; that businesses receive various kinds of government support of their own; and that where co-ops are active, business could use a strong dose of competition. The bill passed the House 199-198. The four Texans voting for cooperatives get stars. 17 Legal services Poor people fighting local school segregation can no longer turn to the government-funded Legal Services Corporation for assistance. During consideration of legislation to extend the life of the LSC, the House voted 208-174 to adopt an amendment prohibiting any use of the agency’s funds for the litigation of desegregation suits. Proponents of the amendment said LSC attorneys had no business getting involved in “emotional” issues like busing. Barbara Jordan, on the other hand, pointed out that the restrictive amendment would effectively deny many low-income Americans the right to counsel on critical legal questions. Texans voting against this latest restriction on LSC get stars. 18 Social Security Several years of high unemployment have meant less income for the nation’s Social Security fund. The drop-off in contributions, coupled with a burgeoning retirement population drawing on Social Security, has led some to fear that the system faces bankruptcy. Hence, a rash of Social Security “reform” proposals this session. Unfortunately, most were reactionary attempts to restrict old people’s access to benefits. A major argument developed over a proposal to pay Social Security benefits out of general revenues, with progressives supporting this approach not only as a means of guaranteeing payments but also as a fairer way of financing the system, since a hike in Social Security taxes \(which are already far more regressive low-income Americans. Austin Democrat Jake Pickle led the fight against the progressive view, offer-. ing an amendment to prohibit the government from drawing on treasury funds whenever Social Security reserves fall below a safe level. Pickle argued that allowing use of the treasury would turn Social Security into a welfare program rather than an insurance plan. James ients needed a guarantee that their monthly checks would continue to show up and called Pickle’s amendment “the harshest and cruelest thing we could do to the elderly in this country.” The amendment was rejected, 221-196. Five Texans voted against Pickle and they get stars. 19 Abortion Anti-abortion sentiment ran strong in the House this session, and pro-life members expressed their feelings by tying up the Labor-HEW appropriations bill until early December, well past the end of the cabinet departments’ fiscal year. At issue was the proposed use of HEW-administered Medicaid funds to finance abortions for poor women. On June 17, the House voted a flat-out ban on the proposition. The Senate, however, approved use of Medicaid money for abortions when pregnancy would endanger a woman’s life, in cases of rape or incest, or when otherwise medically necessary. A conference committee met to work out the differences on abortion between the House and Senate, but the House conferees steadfastly refused to compromise. tried to break the deadlock by offering a resolution instructing the House conferees to accept the Senate version of the abortion provision. A motion to suspend the rules and vote on Stokes’ resolution failed, 252-164. On Dec. 7, after five months of wrangling and 17 attempts to win House approval, the conference committee finally reached a compromise. The eight Tekans voting with Stokes back in September are starred. \(Continued on page THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7