Friday, March 19, 2010

How HCR will change lawmaking: Stern vs. Ezra Klein

Andy Stern to Ezra Klein on how the long struggle to get health reform passed has changed the political process, maybe forever:
The bill isn't law yet, but while I have you on the phone, what have been the lessons of this effort?
First, the longer you wait, the harder it gets and the worse it gets. Time for deliberation is appropriate, but indecision and delay are counterproductive to getting something done. The choices don't get easier over time. They get harder.

Second, people have to decide whether people in the same party will use procedural tricks to trip up their teammates. Or whether parties, particularly the Democratic Party, appreciates that the special deals and earmarks that might traditionally have been part of the process no longer work. Politicians used to bring kickbacks home to their district, but now people think the system is corrupt.

Governing honestly and openly and voting based on what's good for the country rather than for your election actually means something right now. It's really dangerous right now to be seen being corrupt in a corrupt system. Ben Nelson used to look like an honorable person in a corrupt system. Then he flipped to looking like one of the corruptors.
Has anyone noticed that for all the agony of this process, the intense fire and scrutiny has actually forced the Democrats to account for every detail in the bill and so write a better bill?

On the the other hand, the process has demonstrated that relentlessly misinforming the public and whipping up a frenzy of opposition on false premises pays off, at least in the short term.  The Republican memes -- government takeover of heatlhcare, back-room deals, death panels, adds to the deficit -- have clearly taken hold.  In phone outreach, I heard most of them.

Indeed, this paradox - that frenzied opposition, while misinforming the public and undermining respect for Congress, has forced better bill-making -- is captured by comparing Stern's claim above with Klein's own thought in a subsequent post:
As Republicans well know, private negotiations between lawmakers, deals that advantage a state or a district, and a base level of respect for the CBO's scores have long been central to the lawmaking progress. As the parties have polarized, reconciliation and self-executing rules (like deem and pass) have become more common -- and the GOP's own record, which includes dozens of reconciliation bills and self-executing rules, proves it...[snip]
The result of this constant assault on how a bill becomes a law -- a process that has never before been subject to such 24/7 scrutiny from cable news and blogs and talk radio -- will be ever more public cynicism. Evan Bayh put it well in his New York Times op-ed. "Power is constantly sought through the use of means which render its effective use, once acquired, impossible," he wrote.
Perhaps, too, the first part of Stern's statement -- you have to do it fast -- is at odds with the second -- you now have to do it clean. Is it possible to do both? Or either?

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