Thursday, January 21, 2010

Should we? Can we? How?

It seems to me that much of the disconnect between Americans and their politicians can be summed up in a discussion about public policy “reform.” Every discussion ought to include open and frank debate in Congress, including these three questions: Should we? Can we? How?

Should we? This is all about fundamentals. It calls into question the Constitution. It examines the role of government, and the size of government.

Obama can’t see this part of the argument. Instead, he sees himself catching flak because his agenda isn’t progressive enough for the tastes of his more liberal friends. Examples: Afghanistan, climate change and the public option.

He gives little attention to conservatives who really want this question answered. He’s taken to marginalizing them as “tea baggers” when in fact the “Should we?” put Scott Brown in the Senate on Tuesday.

Next comes Can we? The term “government worker” has become an oxymoron. The federal government has the worst reputation of all. Can we do it? Can we carry out a new program effectively and efficiently? Past history says we can’t. Be it Homeland Security, the Office of Education or Health and Human Services there are reams of examples of waste, fraud and failure.

Lastly comes the How? How do we create the legislation required to fix the problem? Obama spends all his time and energy on How. And that question alone calls to bear fierce debate within the democratic party.

I submit that before the administration can advance any issue it needs to examine “Should we? and “Can we?” to the satisfaction of the majority of the voters. When surveys reveal that health care costs are of concern to Americans, the politicians run off with that little slice of data without really listening to the problem. Like Rahm Emanuel said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." He goes on to explain that it is an opportunity to impose your agenda and do things you thought you couldn’t do before.

Obama has clearly been opportunistic, but he has failed to consider the “Should we?” part of the equation.

Here are a couple of prime examples.

Cap-and Trade-
Should we really impose stricter emission standards? Should we really kill the coal industry in this country? Should we tax our few remaining manufacturing operations to the brink of extinction while the nations supplying our goods scoff at pollution concerns? Should we do this based on suspect data?

Can we administer this carbon credits thing? Ample cases exist where politicians and their families are benefiting as middlemen. Loopholes and unintended consequences abound. Cash for Clunkers is just one such example.

Health Care-
Should the government be involved to a greater extent than they already are in the medical decisions of Americans? Do we want national health insurance or universal health insurance or socialized medicine? Obama has changed the syntax to skirt the philosophical debate, but it doesn’t change the basic question. Do we want socialized medicine in the United States?

Here’s a “Can we?” with a long history of fraud and inefficiency. Strangely, Obama doesn’t deny those charges. Why would we want a massive new federal program designed to regulate 1/6 of the economy when Medicare, Medicaid, and EMTALA have been such disasters? What makes any of us think this program will somehow transform federal bureaucracies into well-oiled machines?

These enormous bills are fraught with loopholes and future court cases that will change the intent in a heartbeat.

Should we increase the number of immigrants into the United States? That is the key question. Immigration reform advocates talk of streamlining the immigration process and ramping up family unification. We are already issuing a million green cards a year? Is there a new limit?

Truth be told, the quota is still at 250,000 per year, but congress has winked at that number and created all sorts of special programs that function outside the quotas.

The real “Should we?” is this: Should we allow every foreigner to come to the United States based on his desire to live here?

And of course amnesty, another syntax problem, is a question Washington will not even ask.

The “Can we?” of immigration enforcement is a pathetic litany of failure. Commissions have made recommendations since 1981, yet we have not been able to control our borders, our visas or our work permits.

Even the deaths of 3,000 people carried live on television have failed to motivate our government to fix the problem.

It would be difficult to find a more pertinent example of the answer, “We cannot.”