14 July 2007

Start Small, Do it Well, Move On

It seems everyone wants everything at once. The politicians want an omnibus immigration reform bill. They want universal health care. I am not sure that there ever has been one large government-sponsored program that has been successful. These programs are doomed to fail from the start because they are too large and over reaching to fund, implement, and maintain. Our government seems to think that more legislation is better even if it cannot be fully funded and implemented.

Immigration reform was recently proposed by President Bush and Congress. It failed (thankfully) because the reform did not fundamentally address the two issues that the majority of Americans wanted addressed: security and enforcement. The type of immigration reform the American people wanted was not about racism, it was about security. It was about a general feeling that the federal government was not doing a good enough job with its current laws, so what exactly would change by making new laws? Common sense immigration reform would consist of a multi-step legislation process. First, actually enforce the existing laws on the books and secure the border through a combination of fence, increasing the number of border agents, and electronic surveillance. Once benchmarks set under the first piece of legislation are achieved additional legislation could then be considered to create a guest worker program. And once the benchmarks for the guest worker program are achieved the status of the illegal immigrants would be decided. You may point out that we could setup the legislation to incorporate these benchmarks into an overall package, but I think that would be a mistake. I think it is better to set the benchmarks in each part of the plan then debate the next phase before adding new legislation. It is cleaner and prevents the corruption of the legislation.

The same approach can be used to address health care. Instead of debating universal health care for everyone in this country, let us first address those that need it the most. Again start small by providing a plan for those uninsured in the United States. Add benchmarks that track the progress. Start with providing health care to the most vulnerable portion of society – the children. Make sure that program is working. Adjust it if it is not. Once the benchmarks for insuring the uninsured children are achieved present legislation to address the next population. Through this process we learn what worked and did not work in previous legislation. We can adapt more easily when it comes to addressing the next uninsured segment of the population and expanding the program. Add benchmarks to each part of the process to make sure that we do not get ahead of ourselves and find ourselves in another Medicare and social security funding nightmare.

Yes, starting small and slowly moving through the process takes time, but it sure beats the alternative of trying to do everything at once and poorly and it is generally more palpable to everyone in the end. Methodically making progress will be most frustrating in our society with the microwave mentality of the majority and those seeking a political or social legacy while in office, but it certainly makes more sense than what we get when too much is tried in too short a time with too few resources. In the end we cannot afford to waste time and money on policies that simply do not work. We cannot afford to implement half-measures. The starting small process will achieve better results.