President Obama’s choice of a Michigan trial lawyer to serve on the Consumer Product Safety Commission would shift the balance of power at the agency and ensure a pro-regulatory majority through most of 2013, regardless of who is in the White House next year.

Last week Obama nominated Marietta S. Robinson to take the seat of Thomas H. Moore, who left the CPSC last fall. The commission is currently operating with four members — two Democrats and two Republicans. If confirmed by the Senate, Robinson would give Democrats a 3-to-2 majority at an agency that regulates thousands of consumer products from children’s toys to power tools.

The current split at the CPSC has slowed major regulatory actions, at least temporarily. The CPSC will debate its 2012 operating plan on March 7, setting up a potential showdown among commissioners.

The CPSC is charged with “protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction.” In recent years, that role has expanded as a result of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Many major regulatory actions over the past year were decided along party lines.

One of the most controversial was a 3-to-2 vote to reinterpret the phrase “unblockable drain” for public pools, requiring schools and municipalities to install expensive back-up systems even though experts said they wouldn’t increase safety.

Another contentious matter involved baby cribs. Last year Scribe reported that retailers were forced to trash 100,000 unsold cribs as a result of the CPSC’s action. That decision resulted in a loss of $32 million for U.S. retailers, according to CPSC estimates. The government never declared the cribs unsafe or a hazard to children, but the CPSC demanded their destruction.

The current divide at the CPSC makes gridlock more likely on major regulatory issues — a factor that could reduce the burden on businesses and consumers.

Heritage’s James Gattuso and Diane Katz noted the CPSC was among several federal agencies issuing regulations that accounted for a significant uptick in red tape. According to the report “Red Tape Rising,” the Obama administration “imposed 75 new major regulations from January 2009 to mid-FY 2011, with annual costs of $38 billion.” According to Gattuso and Katz’s report, the crib rule cost $387 million.

Asked about the role of the CPSC at last week’s Bloggers Briefing, Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said the goal should be to help businesses succeed, not burden them with excessive regulations.

“I think it’s really important that the individuals who are charged with operating those agencies do so with the right kind of focus and the right goal and in this case, the goal, I think, would be to make sure that business is thriving and growing in this country,” Timmons said.

Little is known about Robinson’s views on regulation. Senate staff and industry insiders told Scribe they were still researching her background. Her nomination came as a surprise to some.

Robinson has spent 33 years as a trail lawyer, according to a White House biography. She has a background in medical malpractice and serves as a fellow at the International Society of Barristers, an organization she led as president from 2010 to 2011. Last year Robinson was the  independent legal counsel to the chair of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission in Liberia.

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Robinson “served eight years in a federal appointment to the board of the Dalkon Shield Claimants Trust, which disbursed over $2.4 billion to more than 300,000 users of an intrauterine contraceptive device sold by A.H. Robins Co. in the 1970s.”

The choice of Robinson continues a trend in the Obama White House. The Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News reported “nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts.”

Robinson is a major donor to Democrats. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, she contributed $26,200 to the Democratic National Committee and $4,600 to Obama. She gave $2,400 to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and another $1,000 to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).

Robinson made a run for public office in 2000, but lost her race for the Michigan Supreme Court. She did not respond to a call seeking comment.

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