Does D.C. Know its Limits?
Whether you are a supporter of the Affordable Care Act or not, I believe it’s safe to say that the first few months of the President’s signature law have gone less than stellar. The word “glitch” has become part of daily lexicon. I can imagine kids across the country telling their parents that there were glitches in completing homework assignments or, from a historical perspective, wondering if Captain Edward John Smith had radioed in that the Titanic had encountered a few glitches in its trip across the Atlantic.
Now, it is likely that by the time you read this column all of the website issues that have plagued the rollout of Obamacare will be solved, or maybe not. To me, this is not the main issue. I believe the trouble in this rollout highlights two distinctly different issues. The first, and most visible, is whether the Affordable Care Act is good public policy. Mind you, this does not question if the law was needed or not, it means was the bill as written and implemented good policy and does it make sense. The second, and I believe ultimately as or more important, is can the federal government implement a policy as far-ranging as the Affordable Care Act?
Allow me to try and use a real life example (those that know me understand that I seldom can make it through a meeting without trying to correlate a problem, in fact I think I did it twice in the opening paragraph of this column). So, back to real life. I love risotto. It’s one of my favorite foods. I would have it for every meal if I could. Unfortunately, my culinary skills are somewhat limited and when I have attempted to make risotto I have failed. Therefore, understanding my limitations, I do not try to make risotto anymore.
It seems as if many people in Washington fail to understand the limitations of what can be accomplished by government. Was it too crazy to think that the government could significantly overhaul 15 percent of the U.S. economy, and something as personal to people as health care, without considering the question of, “Can we really do this?” I know that for distributors, the question is one of the first that are asked when the prospect of expansion comes up. “Should we expand? Can we make it work?” See, it’s not that hard.
Unfortunately, the question on the limitations of government expands far beyond Obamacare and can directly be seen in our industry. The Department of Energy (DOE) is tasked with regulating efficiencies of products. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, when the DOE attempts to alter efficiency standards for products ranging from walk-in coolers and freezers to furnace fans, they do so without a full understanding of the technology that manufacturers use and how different products go to market. Oh, and did I mention they are significantly backlogged, putting our entire supply chain in limbo as we wait for rules that may come at any time and could significantly alter different product sectors?
While it’s easy to point the finger at the regulatory agencies, and believe me nobody likes to play bureaucrat piñata better than I do, this is not simply a regulatory problem. Congress has created this climate by writing and passing significant amounts of overly broad legislation, which gives too much authority and leeway to the experts. And by experts, I mean someone who sits in an office in Washington. Do you know how I know there are too many regulations? There were over 130 proposed or issued during a government shutdown; and many of those are mandated by Congress.
I don’t want you to read this column and think, well he’s against any regulation. That’s not true. Without question, many regulations are necessary and have saved countless lives and made our nation better. I favor smart regulations — regulations that make sense; regulations that are workable and benefit the public good.
One of the most interesting conversations that I have had with distributors is when they talk about what they did not do well. When a distributor says, we should not have expanded into that market and we should not have added this product line; that realization of limitations and why defeat has come is why the successful keep succeeding. Self-analysis is crucial. Now, think about your government. Think if you’ve ever heard someone say, “Well we tried this and thought it would work and it didn’t.” Historically, both parties have failed to do so and it begs the question, how can you ever know if you’re doing something right, when you won’t acknowledge when you’ve done something poorly?