Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What Sesame Street might have to teach about our current government situation.

I have a lot to say about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care law. I have a lot to say about fiscal policy of the United States, Congressional organization and powers, appropriations bills, continuing resolutions and government shutdowns.

One of these things does not belong with the others. One of these things is not the same. Can you tell which one is different?

If you said, Patient Protection and Affordable Care, you are correct. There is room for discussion on the law and there are many ways it could be improved, but that discussion and those improvements are not related to current funding of government operations. It is certainly not related to protecting the full faith and credit of the United States.

I have been accused, probably correctly, of convoluted logic, so I am a perfect person to recognize convoluted logic in others. The Republican Party, probably at the urging of its "Tea Party" subsidiary, is making a mountain of confusion, obstruction, uncertainty and doubt by mixing things that are unrelated, that are only together because of convoluted logic.

The job of Congress, at this time, is to keep the government of the U.S. running and protect the faith and credit of the country. Because 18 times, the Senate asked the House to join a conference committee to reconcile conflicting budget resolutions and 18 times the House refused, Congress ran out of time to pass the budget that should have been the Congressional work project. They should have had a plan for the spending in the country. They did not. Time ran out. There is a technique to buy more time for discussion of budget priorities and that is called a continuing resolution which continues the government function at prior funding levels. It is a rather specific piece of legislation that should perform a specific and necessary function on rare occasions.

I must say that Congress has fallen back on the continuing resolution technique so often lately it has become the norm rather than the exception it was intended to be. That is another discussion we might have at another time. What I want to concentrate on here is that the continuing resolution should not be a ransom note that holds any or all of the government hostage. It shouldn't even be a tool of negotiation.

The place for negotiation comes in the budget resolution. It might be useful to borrow a definition of negotiation (n) from Bing Dictionary
  • ne·go·ti·a·tion
  • [ nə gshee áysh'n ]
  1. resolving of disagreements: the reaching of agreement through discussion and compromise
  2. navigation: the tackling of a hazard or problem
  3. discussion sessions: one or more meetings at which attempts are made to reach agreement through discussion and compromise
A term that plays prominently in this definition is compromise. A very simple working definition of compromise is an discussion that offers concession and gain to reach a middle ground that is acceptable to both parties. Compromise cannot happen around non-negotiable values and human needs.

Consider the negotiation and compromise of buying a house in need of a new roof. The seller has an asking price for the house. The buyer has a budget for purchase of a turn-key house. The buyer says, "This house needs a new roof before I can live in it." The seller offers "I'll reduce the price by $1000. Then you can fix the roof." The buyer says, "I've done some research. It will cost $15,000 to fix the roof. I'll reduce my offer by $25,000 to cover repairs and contingencies." The buyer says, "There is only one house for sale in this neighborhood where you really want to live. I need to sell this house. Let's meet in the middle. I'll reduce the cost of the house by $15,000 and you make the repairs."

Notice how all the negotiation was clean. They talked only about the roof (though the buyer brought in a little thing off the subject -- the contingencies), not about the buyer's desire to adopt a child or the seller's lost job. That's a basic tenet of negotiation and compromise, stick to the subject at hand.

What we see in the current Washington situation is a negotiation of apples and oranges. "I want to keep the government running, let's pass a continuing resolution to buy us time for further negotiations." "I want to keep the government running, but I want to destroy the Patient Protection and Affordable Care law more." "The PPAC law is irrelevant, let's stick to the matter at hand." "I want to make the President look bad, if you don't agree to get rid of the law, we'll shut down the government until you do."

See what I mean? One of these things does not belong. When an irrelevant topic is introduced into a negotiation, it is reasonable to question the motivation of the party introducing the irrelevancy."

My personal take? Sure, I've already included the irrelevant topic in the discussion -- We've got a case of sore loser. The PPACA was passed into law following the normal procedure. The fact that one party held control of all three relevant bodies -- President, House and Senate is irrelevant. Lots of laws are passed when all three are in the same party. Some people don't like the law for some reason (I could speculate as to why, but that is yet another irrelevant topic). They run the next election based largely on repealing the law. Some are elected to Congress on that basis, some are not, and the President whose name has been attached to the law is re-elected. Those who don't like the law don't have the votes to repeal it, can't use the normal channels to repeal it, and won't wait for another election where they might get the votes to repeal it. They resort to injecting the repeal, gutting or delay of the law into the negotiation. There's a term for that, but that's another episode of Sesame Street.