The White Whale of Comprehensive Reform
Two years ago I wrote an article about patent trolls that said the problem (if you think it is a problem) could not be solved by a broad legislative approach. Trolls only affect some industries (mostly software and technology.) Business groups that rely on patents but are not burdened by opportunistic licensing, therefore, would always oppose a sweping bill because it could not help but might harm them. Even though the patent reform proposal first introduced in 2007 is now a shadow of its former self, this watered-down legislation still can’t get through Congress because of opposition from drug companies and others.
This brings me to health care. Unlike some of my co-bloggers, I do not support the proposals coming out of Congress. I am generally suspicious of anything with the word “comprehensive” in it and want to head for the hills when I hear any President say “we cannot afford to do nothing.” Most of the time, we actually can afford to do nothing. Moreover, the alternative to a broad overhaul is not nothing. It’s incremental change.
Even if you like comprehensive proposals (on Social Security, global warming, or immigration), the reality is that they cannot pass unless there is a loud public clamor for action or years of effort to assuage the overwhelming number of interest groups with a stake in the outcome. Neither is true now, just as it was not true for President Bush’s major domestic proposals. Sure, if you take a poll people might say they’d like health care reform, but there is no intensity behind those preferences. Moreover, a landmark bill such as this cannot be slapped together in six months. (This is where the thickening thesis that I mentioned a few weeks ago might be relevant. Maybe in the past when there were fewer organized lobbying groups you could rush things though, but it’s a lot harder now.) I suspect that there will be a health care bill for the President to sign eventually, but only if he climbs down from his desire to reinvent the wheel.
I’ll actually be taking a break from blogging while I’m in South America. Fortunately, I won’t have to tie balloons to my house to get there. And if you don’t get that reference, then you don’t go to enough movies.