A fascinating set of negotiations just concluded that will affect almost 1/6th of our economy and almost all our lives. So what can we learn from them?
- Maintain a laserlike focus on your goal
These negotiations began in early 2009 and concluded over a year later – and by all accounts appeared close to dead several times over seemingly deal-breaker issues (including the public option, so-called “death panels,” and abortion, not to mention the Democrats’ loss of a filibuster-proof Senate majority with Republican Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts).
Despite these ups and downs, President Barack Obama and the administration remained extremely focused on their stated goals from the beginning – a major health-care law that would cut long-term unsustainable health-care spending, reform insurance company practices regarding pre-existing conditions and others, and cover over 30 million uninsured.
Whether you like the result or not, the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership refused to get distracted or let the entire effort fail – and this is largely due to their laserlike focus on their long-term goal. We all can learn from this.
- Both sides of this negotiation benefited from the use of independent objective standards like expert opinions and precedent
Both sides’ use of precedent to support their positions also had a significant impact on the negotiation. When the Republicans complained the Democrats were considering reconciliation to ram through a major piece of legislation, the Democrats’ response was fairly compelling – the Republicans had used this same process for the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and for other major legislation when they controlled Congress and the White House.
And the Republicans’ argument that the Senate bill included unprecedented favors to the senators from Nebraska and Louisiana and was unfair to the rest of the country was compelling and produced a public outcry, thus largely forcing the Democrats to remove these elements in a later bill that ensured the legislation became law.
- Leverage is fluid, so strike while it’s strong
The Obama administration almost blew this by not taking advantage of its strong leverage when it had it – before it lost its filibuster-proof Senate majority. Once it lost Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts’ Senate seat, it faced a major scramble trying to get the House to pass the Senate legislation in its exact form and being forced to use reconciliation in the Senate.
This possibility should have been anticipated and factored in by the Obama administration. And while the administration would certainly argue that few analysts anticipated the loss of the Senate seat, even if they only saw it as a 10 percent chance – that’s a 10 percent chance I’m sure they would have been unwilling to risk.
Published April 8, 2010 The Arizona Republic