The Washington, D.C. common sense test

I'd like you to join with me in recognizing William H. Gray III and his service by supporting a bill to rename 30th Street Station in Philadelphia as the "William H. Gray III 30th Street Station." Gray is very deserving. No one would argue against this honor.

I'd also like you join me in applauding the designation of a post office in Dublin, Ohio as the "Lance Corporal Wesley G. Davids and Captain Nicholas J. Rozanski Memorial Post Office." These two men are heroes and well deserving.

Let's also confer honorary citizenship to someone, support victims of child abuse, and ensure that federal websites are safe and secure.

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These are all things that will be voted on by the House of Representatives this week under suspension of the rules. This means minimal debate, little discussion, and an efficient process to ensure bills that are non-controversial pass quickly. Seriously, who is going to put up a big fight about the name of a train station, post office, and honoring our soldiers. No one. That's why they're on the House Suspension Calendar.

But then there's another bill. H.R. 4156, otherwise known as the "Transparent Airfares Act of 2014." This bill is sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster, a Republican out of the 9th district of Pennsylvania.

But let's not get into the bill just yet. Let's take Part 1 of the Washington, D.C. Common Sense Test. 

1) Which of the following would most meet the definition of "controversial"?
a. A bill congratulating a little league World Series team 
b. A bill renaming a post office
c. A bill protecting victims of child abuse
d. A bill that overturns a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) consumer-protection rule

2) Which of the following would be the best way to go about considering overturning an existing DOT rule?
a. Not consulting travel industry and consumer groups (those whose members would be impacted the most) 
b. Rushing a bill to overturn said rule through the House Transportation Committee and approving it by voice vote after just 9 minutes of discussion with no public submissions or debate
c. Placing a bill to overturn consumer-focused legislation on the suspension calendar when not a single travel or consumer group exists that supports overturning the rule
d. None of the above

I'm going out on a limb here and guessing you selected D as both of your answers. In fact,The New York Times agreed with you on April 22:

"This push to mislead consumers is particularly galling since recent mergers, like that of American Airlines and US Airways, have made the industry less competitive."

Look at that! So did The Washington Post on April 24:

“Consumers have reacted to this bill in the same way their advocates have: They’re dead-set against it.”

Consumer and travel groups like Business Travel Coalition universally believe this bill is a) based on an airline lie, b) harming consumers and c) undermining the consumer protection authority of DOT.

Nevertheless, Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Shuster disagree with The New York Times, with The Washington Post, with every consumer group, every travel group, and somehow find a way to disagree with common sense and fully believe this bill meets the definition of non-controversial.

Well, maybe they're right. And maybe everyone else is wrong. So let's take a quick look at the bill.

"To amend title 49, United States Code, to allow advertisements and solicitations for passenger air transportation to state the base airfare of the transportation, and for other purposes."

Ever go on Orbitz.com to book a flight? And you see roundtrip from Philadelphia to Miami costs $400? That is the total cost of the flight. The base fare might be $350, then $50 in assorted government taxes and fees.

This is due to the aforementioned DOT rule that requires airlines to be upfront when it comes to the total price of airfare, including mandatory taxes and fees, which also allows airlines to break out these amounts in advertisements.

Well, Shuster didn't quite like that and in came this "Transparent Airfares Act of 2014" to reverse that rule. I suppose many are just baffled as to why he had a problem with the way consumer protections were.

I'm sure the reason had absolutely nothing to do with his campaign contributions, namely the $200,000+ he received from the air transport industry in 2013-2014.

Or the $36,500 he received from United Continental holdings. Nah, that didn't have anything to do with it.

Or the $16,700 from Airlines for America and the $13,500 from Delta Air Lines.

None of that played a role. Bill Shuster genuinely just hated going on Orbitz and seeing the full price of his ticket so he HAD to sponsor this bill as the chairman of the House Transportation Committee and HAD to rush it through with no debate and just HAD to get it placed on the suspension calendar.

Are we ready to play Part 2 of the Washington, D.C. Common Sense Test?

3) Does what Bill Shuster did make any logical sense?
a. Yes
b. No

The answer is no. And the final question could be an open-ended essay. The question is, "Why do we stand for this?" Why do we let the people we elect represent their own special interests more than they do us?

Does Shuster actually care about the consumers in PA-9? Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) is also co-sponsoring this bill. He's my cvongressman. Does he care more about his friend Bill or his constituent Brandon?

I'm not sure. But increasingly it seems as though the "leaders" in Washington are failing that common sense test and continuing in their failing grades. Unfortunately, the latest example of this is being swept under the table and will be damaging to consumers in the long run.

Before the November election, I hope those grades are reviewed. And hopefully there's a new kid in the class who can come in and score a little higher. I think we deserve it.

Mitchell is a Philadelphia-based client success manager at an E-commerce startup.

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