Washington View: Bipartisan effort the way to fix Obamacare

By Don Brunell, Columbian business commentator

Published:

 
photoDon Brunell recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business.

In the midst of all the turmoil, confusion and partisan infighting over the Affordable Care Act, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s words have come back to haunt us: “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”

Well, now we know.

Many who buy their own health insurance are losing their coverage because their policies don’t qualify under Obamacare. Contrary to the president’s repeated assurances, they can’t keep their policies or their doctors. And because Obamacare requires policies to include benefits and coverage many people don’t want or need, the new policies are in many cases far more costly.

The sticker shock and disruption have created a political firestorm in Washington, D.C., further aggravated by the woes of the ACA website. Finger-pointing is consuming our nation’s capital.

But we’ve been through this before and persevered. We can do it again.

The political environment of the early 1970s was much like it is today. President Richard Nixon’s landslide re-election in 1972 came as more and more details of the bungled burglary at the Watergate complex were coming to light, forcing his resignation in August 1974.

The current situation is not on a par with Watergate, but President Obama finds himself embroiled in several controversies, of which the malfunctioning Affordable Care Act is central. But as acrimonious as the politics of the early 1970s were, it didn’t stop Congress and the president from doing the business voters elected them to do.

At the time, I was an aide to Republican Congressman Dick Shoup. Although he was from Montana, Shoup found himself in the middle of drafting legislation to restructure the Northeast railroad system. The once grand railroads of the Northeast were dilapidated; the iconic Penn Central railroad was losing more than $1 million a day and poorly trained dispatchers literally lost trains throughout the system.

Allowing the Northeast railroads to collapse was not an option.

Shoup worked with Rep. Brock Adams , D-Wash., to develop legislation to restructure the railroads. Nixon signed it into law just before he left office.

Their work created the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail. It became the primary railroad in the Northeast between 1976 and 1999. Today, as CSX, the system serves cities from Chicago to New York. Despite the deeply divisive atmosphere, Congress and the administration still got things done.

Today, important issues such as immigration reform, health care, and dealing with our mushrooming national debt are left hanging. Part of the problem is the way Congress works nowadays.

Obama and congressional Democrats rushed the Affordable Care Act to a vote with its 2,000-plus pages virtually unread, with no bipartisan input or support.

The Conrail legislation was meticulously drafted with bipartisan input. Utilizing information from staff and agency experts, lawmakers negotiated everything in the final legislation, even the abandonment of a short, little-used spur line in Little Silver, N.J.

Obamacare has some positive aspects, but they are overshadowed by a complex maze of mandates, qualifiers, rules and regulations that individuals, employers, doctors, hospitals and insurers must now navigate.

It is no wonder the law and the website created to implement it are mired in chaos and confusion.

Congress and the president need to put Obamacare on the back burner and dive into finding ways to make it truly affordable and workable without bankrupting America. Rebuild Obamacare using the same cooperative and painstaking process Shoup and Adams did in restructuring the Northeast railroads.

That will restore confidence and trust in health care reform — and our federal government.