Friday, August 14, 2009

Failing the KISS Test

Obama is getting the blame for losing control of the message on health care reform, or health insurance reform, but I see Congress being more of the culprit for giving him a horribly garbled message in the first place; something that Congress is altogether too prone to do. Part of the problem is that we don’t even know what we are reforming; is it health care, or is it health insurance? Nobody seems to be quite certain, and we are talking about one thing one day, and the other thing the next.

Part of the problem, and to me a very large part, is that Congress seems incapable of crafting a bill that focuses on doing one basic thing. They consistently fail the “KISS” test; “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Each person in the legislature insists on getting his/her little pet project inserted into the bill and, by the time all is said and done, we have a massive convoluted mess with so many clauses, paragraphs and sub-paragraphs that there is something in it for everyone to object to. The basic idea may have been relatively uncontroversial, but we wind up with dozens of special interests raising Cain over one add-on or another.

The economic stimulus bill wound up being far more controversial than it needed to be. Conservative Republicans opposed the basic idea of it, but the nation as a whole was enthusiastically behind the idea of a spending bill that would create jobs and give a boost to the economy. Then Congress went to work on it, and the thing barely passed because it was loaded, not with the “pork” that Republicans claimed, but with peripheral projects that were social policy rather than direct stimulus.

For instance there was $8 billion allocated for high speed rail projects, which would produce no actual “shovel in the ground” jobs for eight to ten years. The rail projects not only had not yet been designed, the locations had not yet been determined. As policy, this was good policy and should have been promoted, and $8 billion seemed like the right amount, but it did not belong in the stimulus bill. That $8 billion should have been used to create jobs in the upcoming 18 months, and high speed rail should have been included in a transportation bill. Opponents used that clause to fight the stimulus bill, distorting it and lying about it, which could have been avoided had it not been included in the bill to begin with.

Congress has done the same thing with health insurance reform, giving opponents ready ammunition by inserting easy targets in the form of complexities which are not central to the reform that the bill is actually designed to address.

The “death panels” thing arises from a clause that authorizes Medicare to pay for consultations, which really has nothing to do with insurance reform, but is simple housekeeping. Every year or so Congress reviews what Medicare does and does not pay for and revises the list, and this is one of those revisions. This item actually passed last year in another bill, but the bill expired at the end of session and so its sponsors inserted it into this reform bill.

As with the stimulus bill, none of the attacks are made against the basic premise of the bill itself; that premise is too overwhelmingly popular to allow that. All of the demagoguery is taken from “Clause 1714, paragraph 23, sub-paragraph 7, which says…”

Demagogues can’t attack simplicity; they thrive on complexity.

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