Thursday, December 27, 2007

thought of the day

Could we please dispense with the notion that any of these presidential candidates' "plans" will actually become law? The news media and rival campaigns like to dig into the numbers of various "plans" on health care, taxes, etc. and claim they don't add up. Of course they don't.

These schemes are cooked up by a bunch of wonks who don't have access to real budgetary numbers. And even those real numbers are always just estimates. Every campaign waves a magic wand to find savings via efficiency in their make for a nice even number for a total cost of some policy proposal.

In the law, there is concept known as a "legal fiction"--something that everyone knows isn't true, but all these smart lawyers look the other way because it is much for convenient to assume that fiction for one reason or another. For example, everyone knows a corporation isn't a person, but under the law, corporations are treated (for the most part) as a person.

Do we really need the political fiction that any of these plans are going to be passed as is in the first hundred days of the next president's term? For example, maybe it is a terrible policy/political idea that Obama's health care plan doesn't mandate coverage, either by employers or by individuals, but wouldn't his plan have to go through Congress first? And wouldn't Congress consist of House Members and Senators interested in health care like Hillary Clinton, who could change the Obama bill to include a mandate?

Even in 2001, with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress (and Democrats with 50 senators), Bush's tax cut was altered to expire in 2011 and reduce the overall number slightly.

I can't think of a single policy proposal offered by a successful presidential candidate since FDR (and maybe LBJ) that was passed as proposed by Congress.

So we all should think of the candidates various plans on the important issues of the day as wish lists, ones that will be tweaked even during the transition period, let alone after consults with Congressional leaders. These wish lists tell us something about what kind of president a candidate will be, but won't tell us how they will compromise and negotiate their plans with Congress.

So could the national media and rival campaigns please stop pretending like they know nothing about how the legislative process works (or doesn't)? Because such posturing really is contributing to the public's ignorance of civics.


Misty Fowler said...

I have to agree that I don't think any of them will be able to hand congress their plan and have it come back to them for signing shortly thereafter.

But, the naive part of me would like to believe that at least one of them (ahem, Obama) would be able to bring about at least some type of consensus, to make this happen. When I think about a leader, I kind of expect him to get everyone to follow, even if they don't like it much. Hell, if this nation let Bush have his way for so long, you'd think maybe Obama could convince us to let him fix the broken health care system.

Anyway, I do think something will happen with health care, one way or another.

Bradley Ross said...

Great post; you make an important point. The plans that candidates put forward mostly, as you say, get the issue out on the table and fuel a discussion on the issue rather than provide definitive solutions.

However, if a candidate can't put together a coherent, realistic, and internally consistent proposal, that's a red flag. I don't mind when reporters analyze the internal numbers of a candidates plan because it tests for a minimal degree of rigor in the plan.