President Barack Obama’s two nominees for the Federal Trade Commission sailed through a confirmation hearing in front of the Commerce Committee this afternoon, as senators asked questions largely about the consumer protection function of the agency.
The two nominees for the five member commission are Julie Brill, a consumer watchdog who spent most of her career in the Vermont attorney general’s office, and Edith Ramirez, an intellectual property litigator from the California firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, and a law school classmate and early supporter of Obama.
The FTC enforces federal consumer protection laws, and shares authority with the Justice Department to enforce antitrust laws.
The current commissioners are heavyweights in the antitrust field. J. Thomas Rosch previously worked at the FTC and was an antitrust partner at Latham & Watkins; William E. Kovacic was a professor at George Washington University Law School; and Chairman Jon Leibowitz spent more than a decade on Capitol Hill, including a stint with the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who said he has known Brill for two decades, introduced the nominee as the “pride of Randolph, Vermont.”
Brill, accompanied by her family, said her top priority would be the credit scams that contributed to the economic crisis. In her opening statement, she called attention to the mortgage woes and high unemployment on Main Street which, she said, contributed to an atmosphere where consumers are “particularly vulnerable” to get-rick-quick and other scams.
Ramirez, in her opening remarks, singled out financial services, healthcare, energy and technology for closer scrutiny as industries that effect “the daily lives of ordinary Americans.”
Questions from senators followed similar lines.
Ramirez said she would prioritize the FTC’s consumer awareness programs, in response to questions from Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) about how the nominees might improve Americans’ knowledge of how to use the FTC.
Brill said she would like to see more cooperation with state authorities, in response to a question from Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) who said that states often believe the FTC is not very involved in consumer protection.
It would be “helpful to have more information from the states on the bread and butter concerns of every day consumers,” Brill said. “Sometimes it doesn’t trickle up.”
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tex.), asked the nominees to work with Republican staff on the committee.
A local pharmacy trade group, the National Community Pharmacists Association, supported the nominations, highlighting Brill’s record in taking on large prescription drug administrators known as pharmacy benefit managers.
Both nominees had high praise from their former colleagues.
The committee also considered nominees for the Transportation and Commerce Departments, and the Federal Maritime Commission.