Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Worth The Pain

Jonathan Cohn has an excellent item today noticing that one of the problems for the Democrats this week on health care reform is that they're basically trying to be responsible.  I think that's correct.  Cohn, I think, is focused on good government, but I'll toss in that it's good politics, too. 

His counterexample is one, actually, that worked out fine for the Republicans -- the Medicare expansion under Bush.  In that case, the Bush administration (and Republican Congressional leaders) did what it took to get it passed, regardless of the consequences.  Cohn remembers:
The cruel irony is that Democrats actually deserve some credit here. When President Bush and the Republicans wanted to pass their big health care bill, the creation of a Medicare drug benefit, they didn't even bother to pay for it. They were happy to run up huge deficits. When a government actuary predicted that the program would cost a lot more than its proponents claimed--a prediction that quite likely could have alienated enough conservative votes in Congress to stop the bill from becoming law--the Bush Administration ordered the actuary to say nothing and threatened to fire him.
The thing is, the program wound up working well enough that Republicans were not punished for their irresponsible choices (and if I recall correctly the honest cost estimates turned out to be too high, anyway).  But over time, getting the policy correct is generally the way to go from the political side.  The companion example to Medicare expansion under Bush would be the Reagan tax cuts of 1981.  Just is the Medicare cases Republicans used funny numbers and ignored honest projections.  And it came back and bit them, as they wound up having to sign off on a tax increase the next year.  Of course, the largest recent example of pushing a policy through without stopping to get it right would be the build-up to the invasion of Iraq. 

Granted, getting it right imposes some up-front costs, including making it harder to enact the policy.  But, fortunately, elections are not held every day, and if the messy reality of making policy hurts the incumbents in the short term, good public policy -- and even more critically, avoiding policy fiascoes -- is well worth it down the road.  No guarantee; after all, as much as the policy fiascoes involved in the recession hurt the Republican in 2008, they are hurting the Democrats now and will hurt them in November.  Overall, however, the short term costs are almost certainly a very good political investment.


  1. This is the most encouraging thing I've read in a long while, the idea that good policy actually pays off. Reminds me of that brief moment after Obama was elected and I thought sane people were in charge after all. The inane cable chatter etc. seems to entirely duck the very notion of good policy in order to wallow in the short term politics of things. I hope you're right!

    Cioran Sellars

  2. I didn't know that two wrongs made a right. I didn't like the prescription care plan and I sure don't like the health care plan they have now. It is just a case of politicians not listening to the people the represent. I say replace all those who stand against the people. Please visit:


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