A lot of people ask me if I believe Congress has overcome the late-night, no-warning legislative maneuverings which for so long characterized both the House and the Senate. I would really like to say it has, but events of the past week prove otherwise.
Out of nowhere last week came the stealth "Prescription Drug User Fee Re-authorization and Drug Regulatory Modernization Act." This bill was passed not only without opportunity for responsible debate, but even without a recorded vote.
According to its supporters, this FDA-strengthening bill was more than three years in the making -- a so-called compromise between industry, the Clinton Administration, and a bipartisan coalition in Congress, we are told. Yet, despite the fact the legislation encompassed 177 pages of text, making broad changes to an administrative agency and its powers, the House leadership did not see fit to warn Members of Congress that this bill was coming to the House Floor for a vote.
When I decided to try to draw attention to the broad-sweeping nature of the bill - and the process by which it had come up for consideration - I was told by the bill's proponents that "there is no time available to speak about the bill." Instead, Congress and C-SPAN viewers were treated to a "love-fest" during which each of the bill's drafters and advocates commended one another for doing a fine job of bestowing on the American citizenry yet one more blow to liberty in favor of corporatism and internationalism.
When a 177-page bill comes to floor with practically nothing more than one-hour notice, one can very safely assume that buried not-to-deeply in those pages are oppressive, freedom-depriving regulations about to be forced upon the citizens. And sure enough, this measure was no different.
This now-passed FDA bill requires that the US, through various international agreements, "harmonize regulation . . . and seek appropriate reciprocal arrangements" with foreign regulatory agencies. Opponents of this harmonization language correctly argue this "internationalizing" is very likely to limit the availability of food supplements by requiring prescriptions for dispensation as is the case in certain parts of Europe. Now remember, much of what the FDA does is already an unconstitutional usurpation of states rights, now this measure allows foreign governments to usurp the rights of American consumers.
Perhaps with such "harmonization," we will not only have a federal war on drugs, but a federal war on riboflavin, folic acid, and bee pollen. Soon, all Americans will be safe because we will have a federal police force dedicated to ending the use of alfalfa!
Food supplement availability may be the least of concerns among those who still revere states' rights and acknowledge the continued existence of the tenth amendment, but one section of the legislation, "prohibits states and subdivisions from regulating food, drugs, or cosmetics . . ." The bill permits the FDA to set national standards for cosmetics but it does permit states to issue warning labels and take defective products of the shelves.
To the dismay of medical privacy advocates, the bill goes so far as to authorize the FDA to track patients who use certain medical devices for up to 36 months, and even to conduct post-market surveillance of these patients. Just think, a formerly overweight patient may be followed by an FDA agent to make sure they don't regain the weight a few years later.
The bill also limits the speech of manufacturers who claim health benefits on their product labels without the "approval" of a "scientific agency of the federal government." Where in the Constitution is the federal government authorized to do this? Nowhere. And remember, it has been the federal government which has conducted bizarre experiments on the health of men and women in this century, but now they are going to be the ones approving medical procedures? The bill makes provisions for such "Scientific Advisory Panels," saying they are to be made up of "persons who are qualified by training and experience and who, to the extent feasible, possess skill in the use of, or experience in, the development, manufacture, or utilization of drugs or biological products." In English, this means the politically well-connected corporations which contribute to the campaigns of lawmakers will be able to fill these a panels with their corporate cheerleaders. They will be able to stifle competing innovative new products brought forward by less-politically-connected inventors; all done in the name of the federal government protecting the people.
A bill making major changes to the Food and Drug Administration, and with such serious implications for individual liberties and for states' ability to effectuate their constitutionally-ordained police powers, warrants something more than the stealth procedure by which this regulatory "bomb" was been brought to the house floor.
Unfortunately, the names and faces of the leadership may have changed in Congress, but there is no reason to think the way Congress operates has really changed at all. Until we have Members of Congress dedicated to preserving liberty and following the Constitution, we can expect more of these shenanigans to occur.
Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas. His office may be contacted at 203 Cannon, Washington, DC 20515.