Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

A tale of two negotiators

Jerry Stratton, March 22, 2017

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.

The only reason the sequester passed is that Democrats (and probably establishment Republicans) expected Republicans to support ending the sequester once triggered, in order to cancel the military spending cuts. But it turned out there were enough conservatives in congress to keep the establishment from killing the sequester outright. Of course, the establishment continued to eat away at the sequester everywhere except military spending, but it took more time to do so and gave the economy room to feebly recover.

Can Trump trade a decrease in his military spending increase for maintaining some of his reform-minded cuts? It’s a better chance than what the Republican health care bill has. As far as I can tell the House bill has no bargaining points. It gives Democrats just about everything they’d want, including the ability to blame Obamacare’s failure on Republicans.

Trump’s proposal will almost certainly get watered down. That’s what happens in negotiations. That’s why you start from more than what you want. Not only do Republicans usually not start from more than what they want1, Republicans, who have promised exactly what Trump’s budget says during every election season for as long as I can remember, are running as fast as they can to the microphones to pre-compromise the Trump proposal, recoiling in fear of doing what they promised.

A case in point is the cutting of funding for the Community Development Block Grant program. The CDBG is notorious for graft, corruption, and cronyism, with writers at organizations as far as apart as Reason and Think Progress writing about it. It’s so bad that deserving organizations don’t even get much from it once it’s filtered through all of the bureaucracy. It seems practically designed to foster corruption, with the end recipients of the moneys far removed, through at least three organizations, from the taxpayers who provide the money.

The Meals on Wheels program, for example, gets a few hundred thousand, a tiny percentage of their federal budget, let alone their real budget2 Meals on Wheels gets so little money from the CDBG that they’ve already practically made up the potential annual loss through private donations in the few days since the Trump budget proposal was made public.

In fact, much like arts funding, most of the CDBG funds go to wealthier communities:

The money often is not going to Meals on Wheels or even to the neediest communities. As a Reason Foundation analysis also from 2013 shows, wealthier communities get the larger chunks of the money, particularly counties that—what a coincidence!—are in proximity to Washington, D.C.

Ending the CDBG, and requiring that funding be authorized by congress through acts such as the Older Americans Act, is real reform that will help reduce corruption.

But as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made clear during their primaries, Democrats don’t like it when someone shines light on government corruption and would prefer to talk about something else. So, of course, Democrats oppose this reform. They’ve been screaming for days now that the Trump proposal will “kill” Meals on Wheels, that only they can “save” it by, alternately, spending more money on a corrupt program or by trapping the First Lady in DC for six days or taking away her Secret Service detail.3

Unfortunately, the establishment on the right will help Democrats kill reform. But Trump’s proposal will at least start from a position of strength. Trump’s proposal increases the chances of something good coming from the final result. The Republicans’ proposal pre-bakes all potential good out of itself.

So the problem is that Democrats won’t let the American people buy insurance again? Then force them to say so. Don’t pre-compromise real reform away so that Democrats don’t have to show their intransigence.

You don’t even have to technically repeal Obamacare. Just let people opt out of it and buy insurance again.

  1. Let people buy whatever coverage they want.
  2. Let insurance companies sell whatever coverage people want to buy.

Force Democrats to oppose a bill that says this. Let voters see that what Democrats are opposing is people’s right to buy the coverage they want, rather than the coverage Democrats want them to be forced to buy. Then see how much compromise is actually needed to get it passed.

In response to Election lessons: Obamacare and how compromise works: As Republicans work into 2017, they need to learn how negotiations and compromise work. President Trump may not be the best teacher, but he at least understands how to negotiate.

  1. Cynics would say that they do start from what they want, and that they’re lying when they say they want reform.

  2. Meals on Wheels gets most of their funding from private donations. Most of their federal funding comes from Health and Human Services through the Older Americans Act, not through the CDBG.

  3. What they really mean, of course, is that politicians are only ever allowed to increase spending. If they ever propose decreasing spending, they should forego any Secret Service protection, not just for themselves, but for their family members as well. Nice family you’ve got there. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.