Michael Maiello's picture

    Sunrise and Sunset

    When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, Amy Winehouse was still alive and the launch of Apple's first iPad was a month away.  We are talking ancient history, here.  Yet, as I write this, we are less than 12 hours away from a government shutdown caused by a budget impasse caused by Republican insistence that the law now known as Obamacare be delayed and then defunded.  The Republican struggle to unpass the ACA has not ceased since it became law.  Along the way the name "Obamacare" changed from a term of derision to one that the President now owns.

    Also, as the law has been implemented in phases, things have been going fairly well.  Exchanges are coming on line that provide insurance at lower premiums than expected.  Premiums for the insured have gone up, but the rate of health insurance premium inflation has not jumped noticeably.  Insurance companies have not collapsed under the obligation to cover pre-existing conditions. American freedom, it seems, is more threatened by the PATRIOT Act than the ACA.  Death Panels do not wander the streets.

    Still, the Republican mania to repeal the act persists.  In part, I blame the slow phase in of the law and I see this nonsense as an argument against slow implementation and its corollary, the sunset.

    Cynics held that the ACA was implemented in phases so that Obama could hand out goodies before his second election and then enjoy the safety of his lame duck term when all the bad stuff happened.  I doubt this.  But, if it's true then it was cruddy politics because, with each phase of implementation, Republicans have had a new opportunity to object.

    I suspect what is true, though, is that the law was implemented in phases because the various government agencies that run it did not know how to put it into motion in quicker fashion.  First we make laws but then the government has to make rules and procedures and that takes time.  We need to shorten that lag, even in the case of complicated legislation like the ACA.  People need to see clear consequences of lawmaking or it all becomes abstraction, which I think is where we are now.  Charge the government with enacting all programs within a year of authorization.  It will take time, money and people but would be worth it.

    I'd call what we have now the long sun rise of the ACA -- a drawn out process where malcontents can complain forever about the day to come.  It is unhealthy and annoying.

    This also happens when laws sunset.  The last time the government almost defaulted on its debt the issue was the preservation of George W. Bush's preferred tax rates, which he had thoughtfully designed to expire during the term of his predecessor.  Bush did this not to be mean to the next president (though it does kind of remind me of his father handing Clinton an unwanted war in Somalia on his way out the door) but so that his budget would score better, long term, according to the CBO.  That, however, is a cruddy reason for a law to sunset.  Bush knew, or should have known that any President from any party who allowed the law to behave as written would be accused of raising taxes.  They gamed the CBO by writing in a sunset that was never intended to actually occur and that never did actually occur.

    We know from the last three years and change that laws can be repealed, otherwise the Republicans would not even be trying to repeal the ACA.  Bush should have been made to try to pass his tax cuts without the sunset and with an honest CBO score.  The only way to do that is to ban sunset provisions entirely and the reason to do that is that they are technically unnecessary since Congress can technically repeal any law it wants to repeal at any time.

    Another negative affect of sunset laws is that they get written into a lot of controversial legislation as something of a salve and as a consequence, issues do not get solved for the long term.  The assault weapons ban is a good example.  Why a sunset?  Did assault weapons become less dangerous over the course of 10 years?  Of course not.  The sunset date was just a target for the NRA to work behind the scenes to make sure that the law would dissolve as intended, with minimal publicity.  That can work when the law being phased out doesn't have the consequence of immediately increasing people's tax bills.

    We tend to debate the same issues of law ad nauseum in America.  To some extent, nothing can or should be done about that.  People do not all share the same priorities and so we will fight and squabble.  But I do believe there would be less of this if we implemented laws more quickly and if we required that all laws passed be in effect until they are changed or removed, without an auto destruct feature.

    Then, maybe we could get to some new business.



    Making this legal sausage is not easy and if you recall compromise after compromise after compromise within the Democratic Party was the cause of some of these delays.

    The repubs will do anything they can to cut healthcare expenses, SNAP expenditures, SS payouts, minimum wages...

    Anything that would benefit the 90%!

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