Washington Watch



The coming legislative year could be an opportunity for libertarians to gain a foothold in the legislative process—or maybe not. Predictions must be guarded for one fundamental reason: Jimmy Carter plays things so close to the vest. The reputed transition "insiders" seem to be guessing as much as the outsiders as to just what Jimmy will do. Herewith some brief guesses from a Washington outsider about things which might bode well for libertarians if we take advantage of them.

1. Carter will go slow on major new spending programs. He can pay his debt to labor by passing common situs picketing, and the mood is skeptical about new spending.

2. There will be a real concentration on government reorganization. This could provide opportunities for getting serious discussion or deregulation, "sunset" bills, etc. into the public prints. The Carter people will go slow on this, and just might be receptive to new ideas. If we throw enough ideas at them, they could catch one or two.

3. Congress will get moving slowly, especially the Senate, which has 18 new members and is due for a big reorganization tussle. This could give us some time to slip in a few new ideas.


Most people are assuming that Carter, with his interest in government reorganization, will be backing some kind of regulatory reform. But nobody knows that for sure. Regardless, there will be reform forces at work independently of the new administration.

For some reason Sen. Ted Kennedy has gotten himself committed to airline regulatory reform. His proposal, while far short of a free-market solution, is the best of a batch of proposals to defang the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). His Senate Administrative Practices Subcommittee will probably keep pushing for reform next year. These could provide opportunities to make libertarian statements at least. Letters could go to Kennedy or to Strom Thurmond (U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510).

If CAB reform is successful there may be a chance for ICC reform. The American Trucking Associations were worried sick over a modest Ford proposal last year, mounting an extensive anti-competition lobbying campaign. Carter's position is unknown, but there is speculation that the Dept. of Transportation's permanent bureaucracy now has an institutional bias in favor of ICC reform. Some pressure is possible.

Relevant Congressional committees include the House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation (Fred Rooney, PA, Joe Skubitz, KS) and the House Public Works and Transportation Committee (Robert Jones, AL, William Harsha, OH). The House's most enthusiastic deregulation advocate is probably Millicent Fenwick (R-NJ). Letters to all of these people urging action would be useful (U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515).

The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation was decimated by the elections, so it is an imponderable until the Senate is reorganized.


Yes, it's discouraging to write to Congressmen, unless you get a charge out of evasive answers. But letters from home are just about the only things most Congressmen notice, especially where new ideas are concerned. Most of them really don't think deeply about issues, so keep the letters short, simple and confined to one issue. But please write, and use the word "libertarian" from time to time.


Despite emerging opposition, backers of "sunset" legislation, which would mandate the end of spending programs unless the House and Senate specifically renewed them after comprehensive review, are hoping to see some action next year. Sens. Edmund Muskie (D-ME) and William Roth (R-DE) still support the concept. The Senate Government Operations Committee will probably hold hearings on new legislation.

One mustn't be naive enough to believe that such legislation, even if passed, would mean the wholesale end of useless agencies. But the review procedure would permit critics to get some hard-line critiques of big government into the public record, and maybe somebody would listen.


An encouraging sign is the number of churches who are using the Freedom of Information Act to try to get copies of the dossiers which various government agencies are keeping on them. Pioneers include the American Friends Service Committee and the Church of Scientology. The Methodists, Mennonites, United Church of Christ and maybe even the Jesuits are also starting to demand to see their FBI, CIA, IRS, and other files.

An interesting bit of consciousness-raising is going on. Most of these people are "social action" veterans of the civil rights and peace movements, who have traditionally looked to government to "protect" the civil rights of minorities and the oppressed. They're starting to understand that government is the enemy of personal rights.

For good information on how to use the Freedom of Information Act, write to the Church of Scientology (2125 S St., N.W., Washington, DC 20008) or the Project on National Security and Civil Liberties (122 Maryland Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002) or the American Friends Service Committee (1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102).