Reform Interruptist


Reform 2_edited

The front pages of our newspapers are currently dominated by important events like the stock market, the threat from ISIS, and the most recent set of natural disasters. The attention-grabbing nature of the urgent is understandable and an important source of information for citizens. However, the urgent crowds out the important, and we reduce our ability to deal with fundamental, systemic issues. As we gear up for another campaign season, it is important to think about what really must get done to improve our communities.

To add to the problem, our elected officials are not motivated to attack difficult problems – in fact quite the opposite. Their continued focus is on “how do I get re-elected,” and in a highly polarized environment, the best way to avoid controversy is ducking and covering from matters of importance. During the current campaign season, we have heard about all kinds of “platforms for change” – recall President Obama’s entire campaign in the 2008 election – indeed, promises of reform and negative advertising about the opponent’s stance on certain issues dominate the airwaves. And you can see the storm clouds on the horizon for the 2016 presidential campaign. The Clintons and the Ryans are already camping in Iowa…

The stark reality is that this is just talk. What we really have is a systemic, head-in-the-sand-and- kick-it-down-the-road approach to problem solving that can best be described as “Reform Interrruptist.” Why deal with a real problem today when you can allow someone else to deal with it years from now?

Here’s are 5 issues that are sitting on the side of the road waiting for leadership.

1. Taxes

In A Taxing Point of View, I laid out some important concepts about tax reform and the IRS-1040-tax-formurgency required to put the country on a more sound financial footing. Changing our tax system will be difficult and painful because of the vested interests in the current system and the dramatic levels of lobbying that will take place. So be it. The time is now to address this important issue. The default proposal to wait until after the 2016 election is just unacceptable.

2. Health Care

President Obama took on the health care issue as his primary focus during his first term in office. Whether that was a wise choice or not, the outcome was not about reform. There are elements of the Affordable Care Act that are valuable and important while others are misguided and fail to address fundamental issues like malpractice liability, cost drivers, and mental health care. But no matter what you think of the specific piece of legislation, it was predominantly additive to our health care system and did nothing to rationalize or reform Medicare, Medicaid, and other system components. Piling more program elements on top of a Rube Goldberg system is no recipe for success.

3. Immigration

This is the latest victim of the “punt until after some set of elections” decision making theory. There is an obvious, crying need for a complete revamping of our immigration policy. Immigration isn’t a debate about opening or closing our borders; it is a discussion about the relative value of new residents, the appropriate qualifications for US citizenship, and our capacity for humanitarian action. Important components of such a reform have been proposed and debated but progress has continually stalled. Both parties want to blame the other for this inaction – but the underlying issue is national leaders playing politics and failing in their civic duty.

4. Guns and Firearms

While the Second Amendment provides for the right to bear arms, the Constitution also declares that the government has to promote the general welfare and insure domestic tranquility. Stricter licensing requirements, mandatory gun safety training, and serious punishment for teens carrying guns are all common sense measures we should pursue. Unfortunately, our current leadership is too fixated on pleasing the NRA to do what is right for the country and is unwilling to take some basic, obvious actions. Gun reform will not prevent a bad person from doing bad things – but it is a necessary step to improve community safety.

5. Election Reform

In many ways, this is the granddaddy of the Reform Interruptist issues since it is politically sensitive by its very nature. With recent court rulings removing many important constraints on financial influences, the election process degenerates into a funding war dominated by negative and deceptive advertising that is only tangentially related to the facts and/or the important issues. The process is further fractured by continual gerrymandering and electioneering rules designed to favor one group or the other. This is no way to run a representative democracy. It is time to start over and recreate our election process. From the beginning. Really.

Leaders will continue to postpone action on these and other important issues until people stand up and hold them accountable for their inaction. As long as we allow the fringe minorities on the right and left to drive our civic agenda, important areas for reform will remain interrupted. These are centrist issues that require common-sense compromise to drive meaningful change. It is time for the silenced majority to stand up and be counted.