Congressional Baggage

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Once this issue of Liberty is sent off to the printer, I’ll load a few days’ worth of clothes into a wheeled suitcase, and a few days’ worth of books into a backpack, and fly off to see family for Christmas. On recent flights I’ve noticed that most people are traveling as I do, with a suitcase and one other carry-on item: a messenger bag, or a purse, or a laptop case.

Longer security lines mean longer waits at the airport, so many passengers are compensating by printing their boarding passes at home and skipping the checked-luggage line.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is noticing too: baggage screeners are falling even further behind because they still have to rummage through all those bags for scissors and small tools. In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, Homeland Security underling Edmund Hawley said, it’s not about scissors, it’s about bombs. Sorting through thousands of bags a day at two or three minutes apiece … does not help security. It hurts it.” His solution? Let passengers carry them on board. Let screeners worry about the stuff that’s actually capable of bringing down a plane.

Makes perfect sense – unless you’re a senator. Committee chairman Ted Stevens (who seems to have a bet with Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski to see which of them can embarrass Alaska most) found that logic “difficult to follow.” Seems to him that it would be easier for everyone just to take one item onto a plane. Voila! Instantly, scanning time is cut in half.

Evidently others on Capitol Hill find simple cost-benefit analysis difficult to follow. A few House Democrats have sponsored a bill that would prohibit the TSA from removing anything from the “banned items” list. Of course, they would still be allowed to add new items. In the Senate, Hillary Clinton introduced a companion bill, which Stevens has offered to cosponsor – as long as it includes a provision to limit passengers to one carry-on bag.

Stevens and his colleagues are about to shoot down the only good idea the TSA has ever had, and somehow they’ve figured out a way to make air travel even more inconvenient in the process. Merry Christmas, from Congress to you.

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