By Karl Reiner
Political polarization is making America ungovernable. Congress has become so deadlocked that a large part of the federal government has been shut down. It has been unable to reach an agreement on the federal budget or on raising the debt ceiling. THe U.S. now faces a danger of default. Because the dollar is the world's reserve currency, the consequences would be unpredictable and quickly spread worldwide.
The U.S. has the world's most expensive healthcare system. Healthcare is a $2.7 trillion part of the economy. While America spends 18% of its GDP on healthcare, nearly 50 million people remain uninsured. While the U.S. struggles to contain costs, other countries spending far less per capita on healthcare achieve better results.
THe Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare became law in 2010. Many analysts find the law confusing, complex and in need of some refinement. Instead of working to resolve glitches, the Republicans have fought persistently to negate it. They claim it will bring fiscal ruin, crush liberty, cost jobs and make the U.S. more like Europe. The rest of the world is baffled by the Republican position because most other industrialized countries have universal coverage.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates Obamacare could shrink the federal deficit by $109 billion in the years from 2013 to 2022. Despite claims to the contrary, private insurance is not disappearing. Under Obamacare, private insurance and medical services are changing; they may actually become more efficient.
Due in part to the negative publicity, few American know much about the program. Polls show that only 39% of people support Obamacare while 51% disapprove. 56% of poll respondents agree with trying to make it work rather than halting implementation by cutting funding.
The changing mood of the American public may explain some of the resistance to Obamacare. Public support for a government provided safety net is declining. In the late 1980s, 71% of Americans said it was the government's job to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves. In 2012, only 59% supported the concept. There has also been a decline in trust in government and a shriveling of support for fairness as a social doctrine.
The U.S. is beset with rising inequality and a host of problems stemming from the Great Recession. With federal tax revenues only covering 84% of expenditures, a medium-term deficit reduction plan is needed. Although it would help support economic growth, Congress can't agree on a proposal.
The nasty political argument over more government or less government misses the point. What is needed is better government. One that is able to prepare budgets, deal with debt ceilings and deficit problems without floundering in noisy political gridlock.