By Karl Reiner
Imagine a passenger airliner flying along its normal route; suddenly the engines fail due to the intake of contaminated fuel. The aircrew reacts; they are able to bring the plane down safely. The crew does it without the loss of life, wrecking the aircraft during the emergency landing in a wheat field. The people who failed to monitor the fuel for contamination then denounce the crew for ruining the plane and destroying the farmer’s wheat crop. Surprisingly, many people agree with them. The crew should have tried harder, they should have been more careful during the emergency landing.
Numerous voters are following the same absurd line of thinking this year. In dealing with the big economic crisis that was dumped on them, President Obama’s economic team probably became the most activist the country has seen since the World War II years. Unfortunately, their frantic work has been unappreciated by a large part of the population.
Perhaps it was the measured thrust of the team that has made it unpopular. They did not nationalize banks, resisted calls for protectionism and establishment of an industrial policy. They developed the now unpopular stimulus programs along with the massive company bailouts. It was all done in an angst-ridden effort to prop up the sputtering economy. Although many Americans strongly disagree, by world standards, it was not an attempt by the government to grab more economic power.
Americans are down in the dumps because of the sluggish economy. The growth rate is tepid, and the unemployment rate remains high. Looking at the short-term result of the salvaging effort, many voters have become convinced the plan didn’t work. While there is a degree of debate regarding the specifics, most economists believe the government’s effort prevented the situation from getting worse. Considering the size of the worldwide downturn, the American people simply may be expecting too much at this early stage of what is known to be a slow recovery.
We have quickly forgotten that the big government push into the financial sector started during the waning days of the previous administration. And that it was the devious products of the Wall Street banks that are mostly to blame for the depth of the recession. Any remembrance of the contributing factors of deregulation and the lack of oversight has faded completely from public consideration.
Not too long ago, the current system of healthcare was seen as a drag on America’s global competiveness. It was a system in desperate need of reform. The U.S. spends more than double the amount per capita on healthcare than do other industrialized nations. It also has a system with big gaps in coverage. Health care spending accounts for 16% of GDP in the U.S. The next highest payers are France, Switzerland and Germany which spend 11.0%, 10.8% and 10.4% of their GDP on health care. The situation in the U.S. indicated that more spending doesn’t necessarily result in a healthier population.
The recently passed healthcare reform has turned into a political issue in this election. As Election Day nears, the reforms still have many details that have yet to be worked out in practice. So instead of being viewed as an improvement, the uncertainty of the impact of the complex legislation has created a sense of vague foreboding. The uneasiness has been exploited by the opponents of reform; they used it to score political points.
The timing of the effort also ties in with the doubts in people’s minds about the state of the economy. If the administration clearly understood the enormity of the economic problem, why did it devote so much energy to pushing a large, disruptive health reform package through Congress? The economy needed attention. Healthcare could have waited until after the economy was back on track.
This administration will not be the first to have suffered a setback in midterm elections. It is getting little credit for its success in halting a major economic collapse. It is being blamed for its timing in trying to fix a healthcare system in need of an overhaul. The grandiose and wild assertions being flung about by many of those seeking seats in Congress only means that the next Congress could be more fractured and gridlocked than the last.
It is not a good portent for a legislative body that will have to keep tabs on the economic recovery and start looking at the difficult task of federal deficit reduction. As it revisits the health care matter, Congress should keep in mind the fact that other industrial countries already have systems in place that provide greater coverage at less cost.