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Congress In Action

LegislationCongressGiven Congress’ determination to discuss, debate, and perhaps pass net neutrality legislation in the complete absence of any actual threat, I found this Wall Street Journal editorial interesting. It requires a subscription and has nothing to do with net neutrality, but it highlights a growing trend in Congress – legislation without a cause.

Yesterday FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras testified to the Senate about her agency’s latest non-findings of price manipulation. The report came in response to two Congressional requests for investigations, one part of last summer’s energy bill, and another post-Katrina…

None of this truth-telling was what Congress wanted to hear, eager as it is to shift its failed energy policies onto the industry in an election year. Senators on both sides of the aisle responded to the FTC’s lack of price-gouging evidence by promising . . . anti-gouging legislation. This despite Ms. Majoras’s warning that such a law could encourage suppliers to keep prices artificially low, resulting in shortages. Congress may be one loopy piece of legislation away from recreating 1970s gas lines.

It’s interesting that Congress has, over the years, shifted its mission from legislating against actual abuses to legislating against the public’s perceived abuses, even when none exist.

There is no evidence of price gouging, but ‘the people’ believe they’re getting gouged So Congress is writing legislation to address that belief, not an actual problem.

People believe that someone may block their access to the Internet, despite the fact that the one case where that actually happened was successfully managed without such a bill, so Congress is writing legislation in search of a problem, and, in the process, insinuating government forces into an otherwise flourishing open market.

There is a term thrown around in Washington that specifically describes the net effect of legislation gone awry. It happens so frequently that they have a phrase to describe it. It basically means that Congress didn’t think things through, acted brashly and enacted legislation that ended up having a significant negative impact.

Before we demand Congressional action for something we perceive to be a problem, but for which we have little to no hard evidence, we might want to keep that term in mind. It’s the one law that Washington gets right every time – the law of unintended consequences.

Written by Michael Turk