Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bi-Partisanship Is Highly Over-Rated

President Obama and the Democrats need to master the art of effective partisanship.

The problem with our present political system in the United States is not a lack of bi-partisanship, it’s a lack of effective partisanship. Every four years political parties hammer out a platform identifying the problems they feel we face as a nation and stating their proposed solutions. Ultimately, very few of the remedies proposed in party platforms are enacted into law. As a result, party platforms are largely ignored by many voters, and by politicians in both parties.

This is unfortunate for citizens who long for effective government. For some of us, the position a candidate (and/or party) takes on issues we consider important is our primary means of deciding how to vote. When so few of the proposed remedies in either party’s platform get tested by being implemented, we are left with a dysfunctional government that does not address critical problems effectively.

Gridlock is, of course, one major roadblock on the path from platform to enactment. For thirty of the past forty years control of the government has been divided, with a president of one party and at least one house of Congress controlled by the other party.

There have, however, been three brief periods over the past four decades when one political party has controlled both the legislative and executive branches. President Carter had a Democratic Congress for all four years of his administration. The Democrats controlled both branches for the first two years of President Clinton’s time in office. And President Bush (the younger) had a Republican majority for four years, from 2003 through 2006.

Neither party took advantage of these opportunities to address any of the major problems facing our country with meaningful legislation. We can’t blame these failures on gridlock. The primary reason parties failed to govern effectively during these periods is the corrupting influence of money within our political system and the duplicity it evokes in politicians.

The primary goal of nearly all of our elected representatives is to remain in office. Successful politicians must master a delicate balancing act. During elections they must spout rhetoric that makes it appear that their views are in line with what the polls indicate their constituents want done. Once the election is over, they get back to the serious business of raising money for the next ridiculously expensive political campaign. Most of that money comes (with strings attached) from corporations and other special interests who oppose most of what the electorate favors.

It is understandable that President Obama wants to change this “culture of corruption” in Washington, D. C. I wish him great success in that endeavor. It would be nice to see the corrupting influence of money reduced significantly. It’s not going to happen, but it would be nice.

President Obama’s desire for bi-partisan support is also understandable to some extent. One of the president’s best qualities is his desire to compromise in order to forge a consensus, as opposed to simply ramming his own agenda through. However, the Republicans have made it clear that they will use any means necessary to keep the Democrats from implementing their platform.

They may be playing politics. They may be protecting the status quo. They may be holding fast to their basic principles. What they are not doing is compromising. The Republicans have not given an inch with regard to health insurance reform and it is doubtful that they will be any more accommodating on any other major issue.

The Republicans, however, do not control either Congress or the White House. They can not stop the Democrats from passing legislation that will fulfill the promises made in their platform without help from some of the Democratic members of Congress. If President Obama and the Democrats squander the present opportunity to enact their platform, critical problems will be left unaddressed once again.

It is time for President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress to give up on getting bi-partisan support and to focus on uniting their own party and enacting the proposals included in the platform they hammered out last year.

It may be a two-step process. Step One will involve Democrats who support their party’s platform introducing legislation and amendments to legislation in a manner that will make it easy for voters (and the party) to identify which Democratic members of Congress are blocking the implementation of the Democratic platform. Step Two is to target them in next year’s primaries. The Republicans have their “RINOs” (Republican in name only), it’s time for the Democrats to identify the “DINOs” and to start working toward their extinction.

The citizens who voted for Obama and put the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress must stay focused through next year’s election. If we do, we can add enough members to the moderately progressive bloc of representatives in Congress to enable them to get down to the business of effectively addressing the serious problems we face.

For the past forty years, members of both parties have been proving President Reagan correct in his belief that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” If the Democrats blow this chance to disprove that adage by governing effectively, voters need to take advantage of the opportunity to implement their own version of a “public option” in November of 2010 by voting the members of both parties who are blocking meaningful reform out of office Can we do it? Yes we can

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Public Option Even Blue Dogs and Republicans Can Embrace

A market oriented public plan would help rein in costs and make insurance affordable without raising taxes or the deficit.

The “public option” is poised to be the deal-breaker with regard to health insurance reform. Progressive legislators are pledging to vote against any reform bill that does not include a public option. Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans are adamantly opposed to any bill that includes a government-run plan.

The key to breaking this stalemate and achieving bi-partisan support in Congress for health insurance reform is a market-oriented public plan that Blue Dogs and genuine conservatives can support - a government owned corporation (similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) that would offer only catastrophic health insurance policies.

This “Federal Health Insurance Corporation” (FHIC) should be self-supporting, with premiums set just high enough to cover the cost of benefits paid. Since the public plan would be revenue neutral, it would not add to the deficit or require raising taxes.

The FHIC could issue vouchers for regular check-ups to promote preventative care. All other interactions between patients and their doctors, hospitals, and other care providers would be paid for directly by the policyholder. If total expenditures for a given year reached a relatively high deductible amount, the policyholder would be reimbursed for any expenses over that amount.

Some private insurers already offer catastrophic plans, primarily to individuals not covered by their employers. These plans are not terribly popular because premiums are still relatively high. (Furthermore, they don’t have the advantage of creating the illusion that somebody else is paying for your health care.) A market-oriented public plan could set premiums much lower since it would not have to show a profit or cover the costs of maintaining a sales staff, advertising, and paying executives tens of millions of dollars per year.

By working the way insurance is supposed to work (covering only catastrophic events) this approach would further reduce the cost of health care by doing away with the “middleman” in most doctor-patient interactions. The bureaucrats at private health insurance companies would not be replaced by government bureaucrats.

The vast majority of people do not need thousands of dollars worth of health care in a given year. The premiums we pay (directly or indirectly) for “comprehensive” health insurance plans are far and away the biggest health-related expense for the vast majority of individuals and families. The cost of a few office visits, routine tests and minor procedures, could easily be paid out of pocket if insurance premiums were drastically reduced.

The fact that the “public option” would be limited to offering catastrophic health insurance policies and reimbursing policyholders whose health care costs exceed the deductible amount should make it clear that it does not amount to a government “takeover of health care.”

People who believe that the government can’t do anything right, or who want comprehensive policies, would be free to continue patronizing private insurance companies. On the other hand, individuals who cannot afford health insurance now because of pre-existing conditions or limited income would have an affordable alternative to remaining uninsured.

The establishment of a Federal Health Insurance Corporation would be a giant step in the right direction toward both of our stated goals: reining in the cost of health care and reducing the number of uninsured.