Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Climate & Health Care: When Solutions Become the Problems

My dad had a saying, “Don’t let today’s solutions become tomorrow’s problems.” His point: know what you’re doing and don’t do anything to make matters worse.

As Congress sputters on the President’s health care and climate initiatives, I thought about dad’s advice but concluded that to be applicable to the President’s situation there needs to be a corollary: “don’t let the solution become today’s problem.”

There are a lot of similarities between health care and climate initiatives. Both are major, “changing-life-as-we-know-it” initiatives affecting all Americans with a lot of very complicated moving pieces and competing interests.

Candidly, I agree with President Obama that America should do something to address greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and the rising costs of health care.

The problem is that the President’s solutions have become problems and, perhaps, even bigger problems then the problems they are designed to solve. One reason is that the President and Democratic Congressional leaders are trying to convince us that their solutions are cost-free and easy. This just doesn’t pass the laugh test. Americans are used to their political leaders stretching reality, but that stretch has to be within the realm of common sense credibility. And, it’s just not credible to say that we can reduce GHGs without increasing the cost of energy or that health care coverage can be expanded without increasing the amount of money government takes from us.

Another reason the President’s solutions have become the problem is their complexity. The President’s climate and health care initiatives are both mammoth pieces of legislation that most people haven’t read, let alone understand what they do or how they will do it. Obviously, some will lose; some will win; and some will win and lose at the same time. Americans don’t need to know everything about every piece of legislation and are used to (and willing to) make these kinds of trade-offs. But, we need to understand the broad themes and how they are likely to affect us. Unfortunately, the size and complexity of the initiatives prevent such understanding, leaving him unacceptably saying, “trust us, we’re the government, we know what we’re doing and we’re here to help.” No wonder the thinking, swing members of the Congress are balking.

The third reason his solutions have become the problem is the speed he is pushing them. Again, I turn to one of dad’s sayings: “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, why do you think you’ll have time to fix it the second time?” It was his version of “haste makes waste.” The President wants to make major changes to three of the biggest sectors of the economy (energy, health care and financial services) in less than 12 months. That’s fast; too fast…it’s turned the solution into the problem.

For many, most, the President has won the argument that climate and health care are problems that deserve solutions. But his solutions have become problems. His best course is to slow things down, skinny the bills and focus on improving one or two high leverage elements in each topic and make sure the substance of the efforts match the low-cost rhetoric. For energy, that means focusing on promoting more renewables, enhancing our energy efficiency efforts, and growing the nuclear industry. As for climate? These first items will make a big dent in emissions. In the meantime, spend the intervening time getting an international GHGs reduction agreement and think through how to implement a cap-and-trade program and the other regulatory tools…perhaps a Blue Ribbon Task Force could be convened.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments about today’s important energy issues.

Please keep in mind that comments will be reviewed before posting. Any comments that include offensive language, personal attacks, or statements that could be interpreted as hatred or harassment will not be posted.

Thank you for helping us keep InsideEnergy.com an informative, thought-provoking site.