Comprehending Reform

A quick Google search this morning of the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” turned up more than half a million hits. A similar search for “comprehensive health care reform” showed well over a million hits. The term “comprehensive (blank) reform” is pervasive on the news and in Washington. It seems that no issue can be tackled without some sort of reform that is geared towards fundamentally changing the entire system.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

It’s time we strike down the notion of comprehensive reform. The recent health care debacle is proof that the notion of comprehensive reform is foolish and arrogant. “We need to pass the bill,” said Nancy Pelosi, “to see what’s in it.” When politicians start blathering on about the need for comprehensive reform we end up with bills that are thousands of pages long, not written by legislators, not read by legislators, and not understood by legislators. These same bills are not read or understood by the American citizen, either.

But the fact that Congress didn’t write, read, or understand the health care bill didn’t stop it from becoming the health care law. And now we see the real cost of it all: increased spending, increased deficits, increased premiums, less access for senior citizens. The “comprehensive” cure has made the problem so much worse, sparking cries for a total repeal.

But repealing health care will be difficult. Why? Because the Democrats in Congress are so busy patting themselves on the back for their comprehensive fix that they can’t (or won’t) see that their best intentions have only made matters worse.

The idea of “comprehensive reform” is supremely arrogant. It assumes that Congress is so well-informed on the issue at hand that they can see every problem, project any and all future problems, and then correct all of these problems in a single, bold stroke. But in the end the reality is that a bunch of half-informed political hacks are trying to repair a leaky lifeboat by firing a bazooka at the leak. Behold the omniscient, all-powerful Congress and their God-like powers!

What we need is to change the game plan. Instead of relying on Hail Mary passes that almost never work, we should be using the short pass. Instead of trying to fix all the problems at the same time under an avalanche of rules and regulations, we should address each of the problems with a separate bill. There is no need to try to fix everything at the same time. Each law that Congress passes is, in effect, an experiment. We can theorize, but never really know the long-term effects of these bills. What we should be doing is passing a small bill, that is easily read and understood. Then let’s see what the effects of that bill are. Is it working? Great! Now let’s address another problem with an equally small bill and see if that works.

This is a much slower way to solve a problem, but it’s a better way of making sure that the solution doesn’t create a host of new problems. Instead of a 2000+ page comprehensive health care reform bill that nobody understood, we should have passed a simple bill expanding Health Savings Accounts, followed it with an equally simple bill allowing consumers to buy insurance across state lines and personalize their own policies, and then another simple bill for tort reform, etc. By making the bills smaller, you are making them more transparent. Only masochists will go online to read thousands of pages of legal mumbo jumbo, but if the bill was only a hundred pages long and written in a manner that is clearly understood…well, I can’t help but think that more citizens might be inclined to really see what their elected officials are up to. This would also make it more difficult for Congress to attach sweetheart deals to the bills because those deals would no longer be lost in the tar pit of modern legislation. Good for America, bad for a lot of incumbents.

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