Washington Watch


Saccharin Ban—What Hope for Progress?

The Food and Drug Administration's ban on saccharin is scheduled to become effective in July. While there is some chance of delay or modification, I think we may have missed the boat on what could have been a lovely opportunity to use libertarian premises in arguing a public policy issue in unusually friendly circumstances.

It is instructive to contrast the public reaction to the saccharin ban to the reaction to the cyclamate ban a few years ago. When cyclamates were banned, markets put cyclamated soft drinks on sale for drastically cut prices, and had few takers even then. Now people are hoarding saccharin, and few people except FDA bureaucrats and some zealous consumerists have anything nice to say about the FDA ban. The days of uncritical acceptance of FDA actions are gone. People just don't trust them anymore.

Congress has gotten the message from the people, and numerous bills to modify the FDA ban have been introduced. Most take one of two tacks: either declare by law that saccharin is legal, or change the Delaney clause to introduce more cost/benefit analysis before substances are banned.

The discouraging thing is that there seems to be little support for an outright repeal of the Delaney clause, which mandates that any substance shown to have caused cancer in any animal must be banned. About 150 Congressmen have signed on as co-sponsors of some form of saccharin relief legislation, but most of it is clearly stopgap—amounting to finding some way to keep saccharin on the market and constituents off their backs—while doing nothing about the arbitrary power of the FDA which is at the root of the problem.

Maybe it isn't too late. Letters advocating repeal of the Delaney clause may still have an impact on Congressmen and Senators, and on Rep. Paul Rogers (D-FL), chairman of the House Health and Environment Subcommittee, as well as Harley Staggers, chairman of the full House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. If you still want to vent your artificially-sweetened spleen at the FDA, you can write them at 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20852.

Chances Dim for Bell Bill

Despite continued aggressive lobbying, the chances for passage of the anti-competition bill introduced by friends of AT&T are dim, at least this year. AT&T wants Congress to reverse FCC decisions which have led to some competition in specialized common carriers and "interconnect" telephone-related equipment. Only half of the Senators who agreed to co-sponsor the Bell bill last year are cosponsors this year. In addition, the House Communications Subcommittee is doing a study of the entire Communications Act of 1934, which offers some interesting opportunities for libertarians to make points against the licensing procedures of the whole communications industry.

Postal Competition?

Little-noted in the recommendations of the Commission on Postal Service, commissioned by Congress to suggest new policies, was a recommendation that private firms be authorized to make fast letter deliveries where the Postal Service was unable to provide comparable service. The other recommendations were predictable enough (cut service to five days a week, raise the subsidy, raise rates, and "emphasize dependability rather than speed of delivery.")

The recommendation about private firms may be related to the Commission's recommendation that the Postal Service decide quickly whether or not to get into the electronic communications business. The Commission believes the Postal Service will lose about a quarter of its first class business to electronic methods in the next few years, and may have to go out of the first class mail business altogether.

Who knows, maybe the market will put the post office out of business even without legislation repealing the government monopoly.

Libertarian Activities

Libertarian Advocate testified before the Senate Aviation Subcommittee in April, urging abolition of the CAB, a position also taken by the National Taxpayers Union, Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union. Abolition is not likely, but some kind of regulatory reform seems assured.

The Libertarian Party and Libertarian Advocate are working together to fight Carter's energy fascism proposals and the public financing aspect of the administration's election reform proposals.

The National Taxpayers Union recently sponsored a Congressional staff seminar on restitution to victims to be paid for by the criminals. The attendance was not very high, but it was better than at a similar seminar held at the same time by proponents of a bill which would have the taxpayers compensate victims of crime.

A new organization, Libertarians for Life, has been formed by libertarian Doris Gordon (13424 Hathaway Dr., Wheaton, MD 20906). The group holds that abortion is murder, and hopes to influence the LP to change its platform position on abortion as well as to make libertarians more aware of libertarian arguments against abortion.

D.C. Area Libertarian Social Club heard from David Friedman in May, Dr. Murray Rothbard in April. Attendance is growing steadily, and an affiliated club has been formed the Baltimore area. For information, write Jarret Wollstein, 2509 Duxbury Rd., Alexandria, VA 22308.

Challenge to Public Schools

A challenge to the public school system may be brewing in New Hampshire, where NHLP members are supporting a family which pulled its kids out of the public schools due to objections to the curriculum and harassment of the kids. Local government officials made an abortive attempt to have the children taken away from the parents and made wards of the State. Now the lawyers think they have a case which could go to the Supreme Court and make a fundamental challenge to compulsory attendance laws. The dissidents need support and money. For information or to contribute, you can write to Art Ketchen or Jim Pinnard, c/o NHLP, P.O. Box 48, Milford, N.H. 03055.