94th CONGRESS—IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE
Deadlines dictate ignorance concerning the outcome of the Carter-Ford stumbling contest and about the possible impact of the MacBride-Bergland LP candidacy. But Congress has adjourned as this is written, and a lame-duck session is unlikely. So a few preliminary assessments of this legislative session may be in order.
The 94th Congress has been disappointing to its most ardent fans, who saw the toppling of committee chairmen as the augurs of power and friskiness from the young turk liberal freshmen. A combination of factors, including veto fights with a Republican president, a recognition by many freshmen that they had won in traditionally Republican districts, and the "get-along, go-along" mentality, which is still powerful, kept the Congress from realizing some of its more ambitious economic schemes. Whew!
Buffetted by scandals and indecision, the "reformers" of the 94th seemed to take refuge in "good government" schemes. The result of that labor has not been all to the bad.
A "Sunshine Law" forces most Congressional committees and a number of government agencies to operate in the open rather than behind closed doors. Don't assume that this will mean renewed investigative zeal on the part of the media and "public interest" groups. Covering all those open meetings can be a lot of exhausting work. The special interests with the biggest stakes in the outcomes will still blanket them best. But it's a small step in a positive direction.
Congress investigated the FBI and the CIA for the first time in known history. The investigations were somewhat flaccid, characterized by superficiality and headline-seeking, but at least they were conducted. A precedent has been set.
It is just possible that Congressional outcry prevented a covert commitment in Angola, though many assumptions should be questioned in the whole affair. Nonetheless Congress' half-hearted attempt to have some influence over the conduct of foreign policy is a mild plus. Now if only they would get to some fundamental questions about assumptions on which a rational foreign policy should be based. That might open the door to some real questions about interventionism. But we won't ask for miracles just yet.
A GENUINE LIBERTARIAN VICTORY
The last few months have seen a first in modern history. A coalition of recognizably libertarian folks combined to stop a bill which would have extended federal power over yet another area of endeavor with unsavory implications for press freedom.
The legislation in question was HR 13737 in the House and S.2849 in the Senate—the Investment Advisors Act Amendments. The bill(s) would have extended the power of the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate publishers of investment advisory newsletters, requiring various forms and proofs of competency and solvency from publishers.
A group of newsletter publishers formed the Committee to Protect the Small Investor to fight this legislation. Some of those involved were Bob Kephart (Inflation Survival Letter), Tom Phillips and Rich Suter, along with economist Art Carol. The significant thing is that these men were all libertarians of one stripe or another.
The only other group involved against this bill was Libertarian Advocate, which did some lobbying and presented testimony before the relevant House subcommittee. But the Committee to Protect the Small Investor did the most untiring work, and the bill was killed in Committee in the House and threatened by a filibuster from Jesse Helms in the Senate. One small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Lessons learned: this was not a piece of legislation which stood high on the Establishment priority list. But there is little doubt that it would have passed without much notice had not a few libertarians decided to oppose it. We may not have the power to abolish the SEC, but we did manage to halt one power-grab. They'll try again next year, no doubt, but they'll know there are a few persistent gnats nibbling away at the Elephantine State.
• Ron Paul's attempt to veto the District of Columbia's new repressive gun law met with failure due to strange parliamentary rulings and odd activities from supposedly anti-gun law conservatives. Paul's biggest opponent on the maneuver turned out to be the National Rifle Association. Things get curiouser and curiouser. Much more on this later.
• In the last-minute flurry Congress failed to enact funding for the International Monetary Fund under legislation which would have encouraged all other countries to "inflate along with Uncle." Key figures in stopping the legislation (for widely varying reasons): Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Henry Gonzalez (D-TX) and Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI).
• Look for a new version of S.1, the repressive "revision" of the criminal code to resurface next year with a little more sheeps' clothing.
Alan Bock is director of Libertarian Advocate, P.O. Box 3117, Falls Church, VA 22043, a lobbying organization formed to present libertarian viewpoints and proposals in legislatures and other key forums.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Washington Watch".