Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Election lessons: Obamacare and how compromise works

Jerry Stratton, March 1, 2017

Donald Trump: Think Big and Kick Ass

Not exactly the art of the deal but some people need a blunter education.

Republicans need to learn how to compromise. Conservatives often complain that Republicans compromise too much, but that’s not really true. The problem is that Republicans pre-compromise. They start negotiations where they should end them. This is how they got Trump.

For example, Rick Perry has already said about the Department of Energy that “I regret recommending its elimination.” That may or may not be good policy. But if he’s going to try to reduce the size of the department’s bureaucracy, it is very bad negotiation.

It’s not compromise if it happens before negotiations start.

Democrats in congress, of course, love it when Republicans don’t know how to negotiate, and hate it when they learn. Just recently I saw a meme going around about how President Trump was putting the two-state solution on the table in order to encourage peace in the region and negotiate “a really great peace deal”.

Oh. My. God. Peace is now a “deal”.

Of course peace is a deal. It’s something you negotiate for. But it’s frightening for the establishment left to see a nominally Republican politician who knows how to negotiate. If the rest of the Republican Party learns, they could be in deep trouble.

The worst-negotiated policy in the United States today is probably the unaffordable care act. You can’t get much more hardline, or more economically illiterate, than one party forcing everyone from every state to not only purchase health care plans if they don’t otherwise have one, but to purchase the same health care plans. Within each level, the ACA forces nearly exact duplicates, allowing for practically no individual customization or even regional customization.

Republicans won two midterm elections on the promise of repealing the ACA, and have passed several repeals that President Obama vetoed. But now, they’re having difficulty repealing the ACA because they don’t know how to compromise. They don’t know how to negotiate. They’re giving up options before negotiations even take place.

The ACA shouldn’t be particularly difficult to repeal. Half the country hates it, and the other half doesn’t have to use it directly. This is partly because congressional Democrats made no attempt to bring Republicans on board. Because the ACA was a purely partisan vote, there is nothing wrong with repealing it on a purely partisan vote. The complete end of the ACA and everything it does should be an option in negotiations.

But Republicans are already signaling that a repeal that mirrors the law’s passage isn’t an option.

This is not how negotiation works. Here is where Trump should be able to teach the establishment how to make deals. As blustery and blistery as he is, he understands this just like the Democrats do: you ask for more than you want, and negotiate toward what you want.

Too often, Republicans pre-compromise, and then let Democrats compromise their bills even further until we have a bad bill heavy with the reality-challenged ideas of the left but that Republicans take the blame for when the bridge eventually collapses.

Republicans often compromise in the very definitions of what they are trying to do. The ACA is a one-size-fits-all solution to what are individual problems: health care. This is a problem that should be solved no higher than the state level. Republicans are pre-compromising that this ought to be treated as a federal problem.

As long as the federal government tries to dictate health choices for everyone in the country, the establishment wins. Don’t give up that all of these decisions should go to the states for voters to solve in a way that best fits their region.

When it comes to fixing health care, it is essential to let insurance be insurance. Don’t pre-compromise by pretending that ACA plans are insurance.

There’s nothing wrong with financial assistance for those who need it, but pretending that people can buy insurance after a calamity occurs is a dangerous pre-compromise.

Democrats want the replacement to fail at least as badly as the ACA has. They will fight as hard as they can to keep freedom and choice out of whatever replaces it. That’s what has put the ACA into a death spiral. There are no choices.

Negotiations absolutely can, and should, involve real compromise. Bring in good ideas from Democrats if they’re willing to work. Read Catastrophic Care. Democrats do occasionally have good ideas. But Republicans currently control congress and the White House. They should set the tone for negotiations.

  • Keep open the option of a Republican-only solution as a bargaining tactic. Don’t give it away without getting something in return. Otherwise, Democrats will simply boycott negotiations.
  • The initial plan should be what conservatives want even if those goals can’t be reached. Bargain down from there, not from an artificially lowered pre-compromise. If Republicans start from an ideal conservative policy, the result should be a strong conservative policy.
  • All points are non-negotiable until they are negotiated, as far as Congressional Democrats should know. They should be the ones begging to find a compromise.
  • Absolutely get compromises. Get Manchin on board if possible. Identify Democrats up for reelection in areas where the ACA’s perverse incentives have hurt the hardest and get them on board. The biggest mistake Democrats made passing the ACA was not making the tiny alterations that would have brought liberal Republicans, such as the Senators from Maine, on board. Even a fig-leaf of bipartisanship would put the ACA in a much stronger position today.

And put some teeth in negotiations. Pass an interim solution, one that lets anyone who wants to opt out, to opt out; and let any insurer who wants to sell custom plans to them, sell non-ACA custom plans. And pass another interim solution that lets states opt out and craft their own solution. Something like this is probably the best choice anyway, but if Republicans really want to jumpstart negotiations on what the federal government should do with regards to health insurance and health care, they can best put the fear of irrelevancy into Democrats by making the federal government irrelevant.

A credible threat to reduce the bloated federal bureaucracy will bring Democrats to the table.

For this to happen, Republicans in congress need to act like they believe the conservative principals they espouse every time they’re up for election: that a free market in which people are free to buy what they want to buy, and sell what they want to sell is the best path to success.

In response to Election 2016: Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.

March 22, 2017: A tale of two negotiators
Establishment Morale 2017

If you want to look at the difference between someone who knows how to negotiate and someone who doesn’t, look at Trump’s proposed budget and look at the House’s proposed “repeal” of Obamacare.

For years, Republicans have been promising repeal of Obamacare and to let people buy insurance again instead of outlawing it. They’ve even passed a few actual repeals—when those repeals had no chance of getting through former President Obama.

So now that they have a chance, what do they propose? A bill that not only doesn’t repeal Obamacare, but that doesn’t even repeal the parts of Obamacare that are causing skyrocketing health care costs. The Republican proposal continues to outlaw real insurance.

Real insurance lets us pay a nominal fee to protect ourselves against expensive medical needs that may or may not happen. But Obamacare—and the Republican “replacement”—still requires that any “insurance” we buy also cover the 100% probability that someone else will ask the insurance company to pay for something expensive that has already occurred.

That’s not insurance, that’s welfare by a fake name. There’s nothing wrong with having safety nets, but hiding the safety net under an Orwellian redefinition like this is guaranteed to make health care costs continue to skyrocket. Which, in turn, means that people will not be able to afford Obamacare plans.

But that’s really beside the point of my writing this. Why are congressional Republicans proposing this boondoggle instead of real reform? Because Democrats won’t let them pass real reform. Rather than propose real reform and let Democrats water it down, they are watering it down ahead of time without seeming to realize that Democrats will still want to make it worse.

Compare this to Trump’s budget proposal. It cuts funding for everything that doesn’t need funding: television stations that are practically self-funding anyway, abortion clinics that get tiny percentages from the federal government, assistance programs that get tiny percentages from the federal government. Research that will be performed by the private firms that stand to benefit anyway. Arts programs favored by the privileged few who can afford to pay for their own art.

It requires bureaucracies to justify their budgets instead of giving them the same budget they had last year plus some automatic increase.

Not only does Trump’s proposal start from a position of strength on reform, it also includes a built-in bargaining point: an increase in military spending. This was the Republicans’ biggest win during the sequester, and they seem to have stumbled blindly into it. The lesson Republicans should have learned from the sequester, which was probably the main reason the economy didn’t remain even more depressed than it did following the Democrats’ health care takeover and their billion-dollar “stimulus” boondoggles, is that Democrats can be tricked into trades if they don’t think Republicans will take the trade.

  1. <- Incorrecting DeVos