Steve Chapman

The Clinton administration was famous for obsessing about tiny, innocuous issues, like promoting school uniforms and opposing TV violence. But the era of trivial government came to an end on Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans got a reminder that their government has some truly vital duties and that it might be worthwhile to concentrate on them.

As far as I know, al-Qaida has yet to surrender, and a few other formidable problems have presented themselves since then. But having failed to solve the big, critical problems, our leaders are once again inclined to focus on inconsequential ones that happen to be none of their business.

Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., for example, thinks it should be a violation of federal law to board an airliner with a bag that exceeds 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches. He wants his rule enforced by the same Transportation Security Administration agents who are supposed to protect us from the next Mohammad Atta.

You might think that if you invest vast amounts of money establishing and operating an airline, at great financial risk, you would be entitled to make your own choices on things like the color of planes and the rules for carry-ons. But one member of Congress wants to make sure he never has trouble squeezing his luggage into an overhead bin because someone else has taken up too much space.

That's not all. Lipinski once had to wait 50 minutes for a checked bag. So he thinks carriers should pay fines when they don't get suitcases to passengers immediately.

But why stop there? Why not mandate more legroom and bigger restrooms? Why not demand a free copy of Sports Illustrated or Cosmopolitan for every passenger? Why not require flight attendants to give each of us a teddy bear to clutch in case of turbulence?

Lipinski is not alone in dreaming up uses for the idle hands of Congress. In recent months, both the House and the Senate have taken a pause from addressing the $1.8 trillion budget deficit and preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons to ponder the atrocity known as the Bowl Championship Series, which uses polls and bowl games to determine the No. 1 college football team in the country.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, a Texas A&M University graduate, thinks the BCS is "deeply flawed." But anyone who roots for the A&M football team (as I do) knows it makes the BCS look as perfect as a Mozart concerto. Why doesn't Barton hold hearings on why the Aggie defense couldn't stop a bathtub drain last year?

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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