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Last week, President Barack Obama nominated a former member of the congressional tea party caucus with an anti-consumer legislative record to a seat on the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If confirmed, Ann Marie Buerkle, who served a single term as a Republican congresswoman from upstate New York, will join the five-member bipartisan commission for a seven-year appointment.
In a way, this fox-in-a-chicken-house move is not truly Obama's fault. The commission has five members, and no more than three can be from the same party. So when it's time to pick a GOPer for such a position and there's a Democrat in the White House, it is the responsibility of Republican congressional leaders. Buerkle was the choice of Senate minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has been stealthily placing conservative loyalists in the far reaches of the federal regulatory apparatus.
Buerkle spent her brief time in Congress battling measures that would help consumers file complaints about a defective product with the CPSC and supporting proposals that would make it more difficult to remove dangerous products from the market. She opposed a bill that would have prevented convicted fraudsters from advertising non-publicly traded securities; she fought measures that would have empowered the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect seniors from abusive practices. And, by the way, she's a climate-change denier.
Buerkle's nomination has many consumer activists scratching their heads, but not for the obvious reasons. That Republicans would pick someone hostile to the agency as a commissioner isn't surprising. McConnell has all but said his stealth nominees are basically there to gum up the works for a Democratic administration. But what's curious about Buerkle's selection for the job is that she has said she still hasn't given up on the idea of running for her old seat in upstate New York next year.
In 2010, Buerkle narrowly defeated incumbent Rep. Dan Maffei (D) in a wave of tea party activism, with heavy backing from the National Rifle Association, which has given her an A-rating for her pro-gun views. The district, though, leans Democrat, and in 2012, she lost to Maffei in a hotly-contested rematch. She hasn't ruled out another run against him, and there's no telling whether she's now truly committed to making mischief on the CPSC or intending to put in a short stint before returning to the electoral battlefield.
Buerkle also recently started hosting a new radio show on WSYR in Syracuse, and she notes that she will need private sponsors to stay on the air. That poses a potential conflict of interest for her commission post, which involves regulating private companies. Some of these firms might see sponsoring her radio show as a way of currying favor with the commissioner.
Obama has to nominate a Republican to the commission—which now has two Democratic members and one Republican—if he has any hope of getting a new Democrat to fill one of two current vacancies. Last year, he nominated Michigan trial lawyer Marietta Robinson to fill the Democratic vacancy, and the Senate held a hearing on the nomination. But the nomination went nowhere, as Republicans resisted. Now that Obama has put forward a GOP nominee, Robinson might have a shot at getting confirmed—though the price is putting a tea partier where she can cause some serious disruption.