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FTC: don't exempt professionals

The vote by the US House of Representatives exempting lawyers, accountants, doctors, dentists, and other professionals from regulation by the Federal Trade Commission represents special-interest politics that does not serve the public well.

James Miller III, the conservative chairman of the FTC, put the House action in clear perspective when he said that such an exemption ''would place professionals above the laws which apply to all other Americans, laws which protect consumers from deceptive practices, price fixing, boycotts, and other anticompetitive conduct.''

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''This action,'' added Mr. Miller, ''would immunize individuals with graduate degrees from the laws which govern everyone else.'' In short, he observed, such an approach is both bad economics and bad law.

To its credit, the Reagan administration had held out against such a gutting of FTC authority. Yet, that did not prevent most Republican House members, along with a solid roster of Democrats, from doing just that.

Congress, of course, has shown special wariness about the FTC in the past several years, even going so far as giving itself legislative veto power over commission rules. But what stands out in the present situation is the extensive lobbying effort by the medical profession in particular - both in time and money - for just such an exemption.

Supporters of an exemption argue that they want to ''protect'' professionals from overzealous regulation by persons not trained in accounting, dentistry, engineering, chiropractor work, and so forth. Certainly, unwise regulation should be prevented. Yet the FTC regulates only the commercial aspects of these professions (as opposed to the skills involved in them).

Such an exemption would pose real problems for consumers, since state boards (which oversee professionals) tend to be made up of the very people the boards regulate; the US Justice Department, meanwhile, has had little experience in the consumer protection area. Rather, the department has usually left such matters to the FTC.

Similar legislation to exempt professionals has cleared a Senate committee, but must yet be acted upon by the full chamber.

Senators should have no hesitancy in voting down such a dubious measure to benefit one segment of the public at the expense of protecting all Americans.

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