I had the opportunity to sit down with Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, ahead of today's hearing that will examine how consumer information is collected online--and offline--and how that data is used by companies.
But privacy isn't the only issue Rush has on his mind. His passion lies in protecting low-income citizens from scams and other harmful situations. He is also interested in boosting the nation's tourism and opening up new trade areas, such as green technology.
Here is an excerpt from my conversation with him:
What can we expect from today's hearing?
We're in the information gathering phase. At the end of the day, I see the end result I want and I am cautiously working my way back from that as far as I can go. When all is said and done, I want people to feel comfortable about their data, careful about their data, conscientious about their data. I want people to feel confident that their data is being well protected and that they have some control over how their data is used.
I know the problems in a broad sense. I want to find some kernels of truth to help us work out a bill... (But) we're going to hold our fire until we get some other issues behind us.
You are working with Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) on a privacy bill. Do you have any idea when a draft may be circulated?
We're not going to do anything this year. I'm hopeful that early next year will be the right time. But I doubt it will happen between now and the end of the year.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) held a hearing this week on misleading marketing practices taking place on e-commerce Web sites. Are you interested in investigating this?
It's probably something we will take a look at. We'll get an update on that and see what we can do.
What are your other priorities for the subcommittee?
In the sports arena, I'm interested in performance-enhancing drugs and how it affects college and high school athletes. I'm also looking at whether Title 9 needs to be updated for women's sports.
The Minority Business Development Agency, which is in the Commerce Department, hasn't been updated in 40 years. I want to take a look at that. There could be ways to give it more authority to create jobs.
Stimulating tourism is important. We have to make sure America has products that invite interests. People have been turned off America for too long. We've got to market America
I want to have more of an effect on consumer protection as it relates to lower-middle class and poor consumers, who are unprotected to a large extent.
You are considering amending the Toxic Substances Control Act to evaluate the safety of chemicals. Can you explain?
We know the effects of about 50 out of 84,000 chemicals that work their way into the goods we buy. We don't know what the long-term effect is, but we know they are detrimental. TSCA has got to bring our nation up to date so consumer protection is front and center. American people have to know there are no toxic materials in the plastic containers for drinking water, in the toys children play with, in the clothes we wear. Companies know about the toxic effects. But Congress and citizens do not.
The Administration has proposed forming a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. What are your thoughts?
If we have it our way, it will be a commission. We need to expand the FTC's jurisdiction . We're not going to regulate banks, but we want to make sure the FTC isn't hamstrung in its abilities to oversee that.
Last month, Rush held a hearing on the green economy. In his opening remarks, Rush said:
"It is estimated that the green technology industry in the U.S. employs 9.1 million U.S. workers. However, only six American companies are among the top 30 world leading companies. As we embark on this inevitable phenomenon which I will call the "green crusade," the future of the U.S. economy will not only depend on a vibrant domestic policy but will also be driving by the global market....If our green technology exports continue to plummet, then the U.S. will miss out on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to become a global leader in the green energy sector."