The Coming Year
One may hope that the year ahead will contain few surprises such as the one which greeted most members of the Senate on the first day back from the Christmas recess. With notice of a day or two, Senators found themselves facing one of the most complex pieces of legislation they may ever have to vote upon. S. 1437, this year's version of the controversial S. 1 of ill fame, is a revision of the US Criminal Code, which has been accumulating in a rather random fashion for almost 200 years.
S. 1 had a number of provisions which alarmed civil libertarians, and was controversial enough never to get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. S. 1437 was the result of compromise sessions presided over by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and the late Sen. John McClellan (D-AR). The result was an improvement over S. 1, but most Senators thought they would have more time to peruse its 382 pages before having to vote. But Kennedy and Strom Thurmond (R-SC) got together with Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) to push immediate consideration on the first day back from vacation.
The measure passed with few amendments. It now goes to the House, where the Judiciary Committee is expected to look long and hard at it, and be more open to suggestions from civil libertarians than was the Senate.
Aside from that little shocker there are likely to be few surprises in this election year. A desultory debate over the Panama Canal and a tax cut are likely. Maybe energy, maybe not. Maybe Koreagate.
Relations between President Carter and Congress are unlikely to improve appreciably. There will be election-year protestations of undying love among Democrats, but Carter came into office while Congress was riding a wave of self assertiveness. In response to Vietnam, Watergate and Nixon, Congress has been flexing its muscles (such as they are) lately, and seems to be in a relatively long-term wave of relative assertiveness vis a vis the Executive Branch. Carter's inexperience and arrogance compounded the situation, but it is unlikely that even a Democrat with Congressional experience would have fared much better.
If there is a war or a widely shared perception of national crisis (such as Carter tried and failed to induce regarding energy) the power pendulum will probably swing back to the Executive. But for now the Legislative Branch is feeling its oats. That should be good news for those who propose decentralizing alternatives.
Airline Deregulation (Again)
A Senate vote on airline regulatory reform is likely sometime late in February (it will probably have occurred by the time this is printed). Assuming that the Senate passes an acceptable bill the action will move to the House. The Aviation Subcommittee of the House Public Works Committee has jurisdiction. Chairman of the subcommittee is Glenn Anderson (D-CA) who supports reform, and whose bill will probably serve as the mark-up vehicle, though Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL) has introduced a more far-reaching reform measure.
Mark-up sessions were scheduled to begin March 1. Letters to subcommittee members supporting maximum competition, maximum market entry and maximum pricing flexibility, would be helpful. Subcommittee members are Roncalio (D-WY), Milford (D-TX), Levitas (D-GA), Hefner (D-NC), Young (D-MO), Stump (D-AZ), Mineta (D-CA), Ambro (D-NY), Edgar (D-PA), Fary (D-IL), Ertel D-PA), Evans (D-GA), Flippo (D-AL), Rahall (D-WV) and Gene Snyder (R-KY), Hammerschmidt (R-AR), Cochran (R-MS), Abdnor (R-SD), Taylor (R-MO), Goldwater (R-CA) and Shuster (R-PA).
Most of these Congressmen still know little about airline regulation and they will be hearing reasonable-sounding arguments against reform (it would let the big airlines gobble up the little ones, cause financial instability, not really lower fares, etc.). Letters may be addressed to any of them c/o US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515. If you could send a copy of your letter to Libertarian Advocate (P. O. Box 3117, Falls Church, VA 22043) we can use it in our personal lobbying.
At this writing, it seems very likely that some version of the Humphrey-Hawkins centralized economic planning bill will pass Congress. The combination of sentiment emanating from Humphrey's death, Carter's endorsement and the self delusion of numerous politicians who want to believe we can have prosperity by passing a law demanding it, will probably be too much for the still feeble opposition. Opposition to a command economy on principle seems to garner no attention at all. The business community has waffled and wavered, and the Republicans have been little help. Perhaps it is just the inevitable culmination of current trends, but one cannot help the urge to cry out with Dylan Thomas: "Do not go gentle into that good night."
The House will probably pass Humphrey-Hawkins. Perhaps the only hope for defeating it is a filibuster-by-amendment in the Senate, though even that may prove a futile gesture.
Letters of protest may be sent to Congressmen (US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515) and to Senators (US Senate, Washington, DC 20510). Please.
The surprise opposition of the NAACP to Carter's energy fiasco and the "no-growth" mentality it embodies may have put a small roadblock into the enactment process, which was already virtually stalled. The death of Sen. Lee Metcalf (D-MT), a pro-regulation member of the Conference Committee has put another imponderable into the equation.
Libertarians should pen a short note of congratulations to the NAACP for taking a stand which required a great deal of political courage and good sense (NAACP Energy Project, 1790 Broadway, New York, NY 10016).
Meantime, even if the energy bill isn't passed, a large number of its more noxious provisions will probably be put into place through administrative edict from the Energy Dept. We'll try to keep you updated on the latest outrages.
Alan Bock Is Director of Libertarian Advocate, P.O. Box 3117, Falls Church, VA 22043, a pro-freedom lobbying and advocacy organization.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Washington Watch".