Thursday, December 24, 2009

If the process is corrupt, what can we expect the results to be?

Megan McCardle is talking process this morning. Just like I did a couple of weeks ago, for the same reason:
to a libertarian, process matters. Having a good process is better than getting a good outcome, because a good process is one that maximizes your chances of getting good outcomes over time.
She's disturbed by the process which has produced the current Obamacare monstrosity Health Care Reform Bill. (As am I.)
This is not a complaint that those damned Democrats are insisting on trying to pass parts of their agenda. But I really do think that in the process, they've discovered some troubling innovations that are going to make our political process substantially worse in the future.

Before you stop reading, no, this is not another in the long litany of free-market outrage against lobbying and log rolling. These things are outrageous. They're also how business has been done in Washington for 200 years. I would prefer that they not happen, but they are not so remarkable as to be worth complaining about.

My procedural complaints are somewhat more obscure. The biggest one is that I am beginning to believe that in order to get this bill passed, the Democrats basically gutted the CBO. Not because they were working with the CBO to get estimates--that's the CBO's job, to provide Congress with a cost. But rather, because this bill was something novel in the history of legislation. Previous Congresses wrote bills, and then trimmed them to get a better CBO score: witness the Bush tax cut sunsets. But the Congressional Democrats started out with a CBO score they wanted, and worked backward to the bill. They've been pretty explicit about the fact that no one wants this actual bill; rather, the plan is to pass basically anything, and then go and totally rewrite it when the budget spotlight is off. I'm not aware of any other piece of legislation that was passed this way.

Essentially, the Democrats have finished the process of gaming the CBO scores. They're now meaningless. You don't pass a piece of legislation that bears any resemblance to what you intend to end up with; you pass a piece of legislation that gets a good CBO score, and then go and alter it piece by piece.
Well, she's right, of course. The process has been appalling. It should come as a surprise to no one that a process that couldn't possibly produce a piece of legislation worth supporting has produced a piece of legislation that isn't worth supporting.

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