The Death of Legislation

Smell that? It’s the stench of health care reform dying. Though there is still a remote possibility of resurrection, it is looking increasingly unlikely that anything like the bills that passed the House or Senate will be signed into law.

Various options are being kicked around Washington and the blogosphere. Some of them make no sense. Others might make sense as incremental reforms, but would do very little to address the big problems of coverage and cost.

So what have we learned? This is a question I’ll be thinking about in the near term. For now I would say that there are lessons in this experience for everyone, independent of how you feel about health care and the House and Senate bills that would have reformed delivery of and insurance for it.

Here’s one. Members of our government just spent the better part of one year working very hard on something many of them thought was very important (either to pass or kill). Add to that all the efforts on the part of interest groups (for and against) to influence the process and the media in covering it and you’ve got a colossal amount of person-time of investment. Even if you are happy to see reform die you ought not be happy at the effort it took to kill it. Even if reform had passed (or even if it still does) you ought not be happy at the effort it took to bring passage to fruition.

A certain amount of deliberation in the legislative process is valuable. The Framers knew that. But when does a “certain amount” turn into dysfunction? With so many important issues facing the nation and the world, is it sensible that we just spent roughly a year on one of them to arrive right back where we started? I don’t think so. It suggests a legislative model run amok, stuck with antiquated rules and procedures in a world where they cease to work.

If health reform is indeed dead, but even if it is not, I think there’s little to be proud of in how we got here. Of course any proposal of another way (e.g. changes to the filibuster) would be subject to the same process. Sometimes getting there is half the fun. In the case of health reform I think it has revealed that the process is at least half the problem. It stinks. Then again, death always does.

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