Washington Watch


Energy in the Spotlight

The most important legislative push in the next month or so is likely to be in the field of energy. Commentators have noted that the House denied Carter some of his proposals, but the bulk of the disaster passed through with little effective opposition. It is surprising, in retrospect, to consider how quickly the House acted on the Carter package and the paucity of serious study and consideration which was given to the "program."

In the Senate there may be more substantial opposition. Word is that the Senate may even pass deregulation of the price of natural gas, which would make for a new battle in the Conference Committee.

The National Taxpayers Union, the Libertarian Party, and Libertarian Advocate, along with the American Conservative Union and some Republicans, have been waging a valiant but probably rearguard action against the Carter energy juggernaut. NTU has been the most public and the most effective, with their newspaper ads proclaiming that there is no energy crisis.

The current battleground is in the Senate. The fact that Finance Committee Chairman Russell Long-comes from the oil producing state of Lousiana seems to be the most hopeful sign. Letters to Senators in opposition to the deathgrip of government control which the Carter program represents are extremely important now (U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510). If you want ammunition, get the August issue of Harper's and read Editor Lewis Lapham's article, "The Energy Debacle." Good stuff from an unexpected source.

Minimum Wage Battle

There may be a close battle over Carter's proposal to raise the minimum wage this year, even though the unions have made a great deal of noise expressing discontent with the parsimonious level. Causing concern is the automatic escalator clause in this legislation, which would provide automatic increases in the future without a vote in Congress.

Most Congressmen aren't about to admit it, but many can see a relationship between rising minimum wages and rising unemployment, particularly among blacks and teenagers. There have been voices in surprising quarters supporting an exemption for teenagers from minimum wage laws.

Letters to Congress (U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. 20515, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510) in opposition to increased minimum wages, the escalator clause, and in favor of an exemption for teenage employees might be helpful.

Airline Regulatory Reform

The Congress took its August recess before the Senate Commerce Committee had come up with a final version of the Cannon-Kennedy measure to reform CAB regulation of airlines. Letters to your Senators in favor of airline regulatory reform are still needed.

The next field of battle will be the House, where Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Glenn Anderson (D-CA) has been dragging his feet on introducing a reform proposal. By the time this is printed he will probably have introduced a bill, but pressure on him and other Congressmen will be important.

Airline regulatory reform is proving to be a case study of how difficult genuine regulatory reform is likely to be. In January many people felt that the skids had been greased, what with Administration support and the support of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and other prominent politicos. But the airline industry and unions which oppose reform have been very effective in pressuring Congress, and the matter has dragged on so long now that final action will probably not come until next year.

Somehow we must find a way around the fact that regulation generally benefits a few special interests so heavily that they have tremendous incentive to oppose it, while the potential beneficiaries of deregulation are diffused and have only a small economic stake. I have hoped that the ideological zeal of libertarians could move them to action, but, with some gratifying exceptions, I have had little success in urging libertarians to write to their legislators on the issue.

If you think airline reform is taking a long time, wait until we go after the Interstate Commerce Commission. The economic case against surface transportation regulation is, if anything, more compelling. But the interest groups have their forces well-marshalled. Of course, if airline reform fails, there is no chance, repeat no chance, of any success against the ICC. So get those cards and letters going.

Backdoor Divestiture

Divestiture, or breaking up the oil companies, is still controversial in most quarters. One bill, the Energy Leasing Amendment of 1977 (HR 5709) would place pressure on the oil companies through the back door. It would prevent companies which are vertically or horizontally integrated from bidding on federal leases. Since so much of the potential oil-producing land is unfortunately under government control, this provision would force companies to divest or stop looking for a great deal of the oil which geologists believe is available. Cards and letters in opposition would be welcome.

Briefly Noted

• The Heritage Foundation (513 C St. N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002) has published an interesting study of the drive to unionize the textile industry through the J.P. Stevens plant in North Carolina. Ask for Backgrounder #29. Heritage has also done good work on the Carter energy package.

• The American Enterprise Institute (1150-17th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036) is publishing the Ford Administration papers on regulatory reform. The volume on airline regulation is quite good, and some of the others are not bad. They're cautious in approach, but a good source of facts and figures.

Alan Bock is director of Libertarian Advocate, a Washington-based pro-freedom lobbying organization.