Not getting the policy right

Kevin Drum pointed out recently that “you need to get the policy right.” It’s not good enough to have good intentions, or to get the conversation started, or whatever . . . if you’re in office, and the actions you take may really affect people, you need to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Is there any evidence at all that Republican politicians are interested in getting the policy right? I certainly have seen lots of evidence that they aren’t. Here’s one example you may have missed: The CBO looked into what would happen if Republicans successfully defunded ACA and found . . . nobody knows! Here’s public policy professor Don Taylor’s modest summary:

Opponents are of course welcome to be opposed, and to repeal the law outright, or replace it with something else. Or even to modify the existing law. To let it stand yet defund it is likely to have many unintended consequences and doesn’t make much sense.

The real problem: There don’t seem to be any incentives for Republican politicians to “make much sense.” There’s plenty of incentive to act like a loon: You get to be on Fox News; you get to raise plenty of money; if you lose office, you fail upward to a permanent gig in the GOP-aligned media or you can always be a lobbyist (note: that last one is a problematic incentive for politicians from both parties). But incentives to get the policy right? None, really.

Think about how this might work in a world in which Republicans were more concerned with getting the policy right than with making symbolic attacks. They would realize that they didn’t have the votes for ACA repeal, of course, but that they did have some meaningful leverage. So they would figure out which parts of the health-care law passed by the Democrats they objected to the most, and they would try to cut a deal in which they would accept the parts they didn’t mind in exchange for eliminating some of the elements they found most egregious.

But that’s not even close to what’s happening. I follow this stuff pretty closely, and I don’t really have any sense of what parts of ACA Republicans object to the most. They ran against short-term Medicare cuts, but then they just included those cuts in their own budget, so it can’t be that. Is it the individual mandate? The cost controls on Medicare?  Do they really believe in their rhetoric about the budget effects? I have no idea; it sure seems as if the objections shift depending on the latest polls or the current political context.

It’s not a circumstance that’s likely to get the policy right.


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