Congress confirms FTC members without enough scrutiny

The Senate confirmed this week two new members of the powerful Federal Trade Commission. There wasn't enough scrutiny.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Newscom/File
The US Federal Trade Commission is a powerful agency. The Senate this week confirmed two new commission members but failed to scrutinize more closely.

The Federal Trade Commission is one of the most powerful branches of the U.S. government. FTC members have virtually unlimited power to prosecute any individual or business for almost any reason. Thanks to the “administrative” process, 99% of FTC actions are never subject to public scrutiny, judicial review, or even congressional oversight. The five FTC commissioners are one step removed from economic dictators. At least dictators give entertaining speeches.

So it’s laughable that the Senate confirmed two new FTC members yesterday without debate or even a formal vote. The Senate approved Julie Brill and Edith Ramirez as commissioners by “voice vote” — meaning there was no actual vote — and no discussion beyond a perfunctory statement from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy. Last year, Ms. Brill and Ms. Ramirez appeared at a confirmation “hearing” with several other random presidential nominees that lasted less then two hours. This is how much scrutiny FTC commissioners get before they’re given the keys to the kingdom.

Incidentally, Ms. Brill is a former assistant attorney general of Vermont, the same state Pat Leahy represents in the Senate. It’s not a coincidence. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz was a staffer for Leahy’s committee before getting his commissionership as a reward. And as Leahy gushed on the Senate floor yesterday,

Ms. Brill has spent much of her professional life working on behalf of the people of Vermont, and I look forward to continuing to work with her as she helps to advance Chairman Leibowitz’s active agenda. I know her family, and was delighted to introduce her at her confirmation hearing. I congratulate Ms. Brill on her confirmation.

So she’s a friend of Leahy and supports an “active agenda.” Those are the only qualifications you need to sit on the FTC and control virtually every aspect of the American economy. Here’s to central planning!

(For those of you keeping score, Ms. Brill succeeds Pamela Jones Harbour, whose term actually expired last September; Ms. Ramirez assumes a seat that’s been vacant since the Bush administration.)

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