Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Behind a legislative triumph, Mandela memorial security, and a question for Politico

Steven Brill
Dec 10, 2013 11:28 UTC

1. Behind a legislative triumph:

According to this article in the Capitol Hill newspaper the Hill, the House is poised this week to pass legislation that relates to three controversial issues: the federal budget, airport security, and funds for the military. Yet the bill is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 43 House members.

Does this bipartisan breakthrough signal an end to Washington gridlock? Hardly. In fact, the bill seems more like it was drafted by Saturday Night Live scriptwriters looking for a new way to make fun of Congress.

The law, spearheaded by Republican Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, doesn’t amount to much more than loose change. Literally.

The “TSA Loose Change Act,” or HR 1095, would require the Transportation Security Administration to gather and store all of the money that people leave behind at security checkpoints before going through metal detectors, and use it to fund special airport lounges for the military.

Until now, the TSA’s rules dictated that the forgotten pocket change was supposed to be used to enhance aviation security. However, according the Hill, the House Committee on Homeland Security has discovered that TSA has been slow to spend it, a lapse that Congressman Miller and his 43 co-sponsors are determined to rectify.

Presidential aloofness, a patent rush, and disclosing Washington corruption

Steven Brill
Mar 19, 2013 10:08 UTC

1.   A scorecard on presidential aloofness:

Mark Knoller is the award-winning, long time CBS News White House correspondent famous for keeping count of everything that goes on in the White House, such as presidential press conferences, speeches, visits to various states and even golf outings. Memo to Mark or anyone else who wants to put some meat on the bones of all the reports about how President Obama — whose charm offensive on Capitol Hill has dominated last two weeks’ headlines  — has until now been so unusually disengaged with Congress: Can you do a comparison of how many times before his recent flurry of congressional encounters President Obama has met with members of the House and Senate? It could include a sub-category of one-on-one sessions, and compare Obama’s record, if possible, with the stats for presidents going as far back as you can. (Maybe Bob Caro can help you even get the LBJ numbers.)

A tally of one-on-one phone calls would be great, too.

2.   Black Friday at the patent office?

Saturday morning at 12:01 marked a key deadline in the world of intellectual property. Under a change in patent law passed in September 2011 and scheduled to take effect on Saturday, March 16, 2013, rules governing new applications for seemingly the same inventions will shift from giving priority to whoever first invented a claimed invention to whoever first filed a patent application for it. It’s complicated, but this is a drastic change in patent law and means that anyone claiming a patent who is worried about competing claims would have a huge leg up by filing the application as soon as possible beginning on March 16.

Patent law has become a multi-billion dollar legal sweepstakes. So was the patent office flooded over the weekend? Was there a run up to March 16 equivalent for patent lawyers to the black Friday holiday rush for retailers?

Congress’s friendly skies, and battle of the dumb lawyers

Steven Brill
Mar 12, 2013 12:42 UTC

1.   Air Congress:

As a snowstorm threatened Washington, D.C., last Wednesday night, there were TV news reports showing members of the House hustling down the Capitol steps so they could get to the airport to catch flights home. This reminded me of something I’ve been curious about for a while.

Several years ago, when I was doing reporting for a book on the aftermath of 9/11 about how the airlines lobbied Congress to block airport security initiatives that they thought would be too onerous, I was told that each airline has a travel agency-like staff in Washington that is an adjunct of its lobbying office. Its sole purpose, one airline lobbyist told me, is to assist members of the House and Senate with their weekly trips home and back. These staffers get the call if a legislator has to change flights because of a last-minute vote.

That sounds innocent enough, but does it mean that someone else gets bumped off a full flight? What kind of other special arrangements, if any, do these airline facilitators make for our legislators that help them avoid the hassles of modern air travel faced by their constituents? How “white glove” is this service?

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