Political leaders in Washington could learn a lot from a 1970s rock supergroup. They ought to listen to KISS. Maybe not the band, but definitely the philosophy. Many of today’s political problems come about because our leaders won’t “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” They go looking for complex, difficult solutions to problems, when simple, direct approaches would be better. Examples abound.
OmamaCare, signed by the president this year, clocked in at more than 2,000 pages. Even the lawmakers who passed the bill didn’t understand what they were doing. “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained helpfully in March.
Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Not surprisingly, as soon as the bill passed, unintended consequences started cropping up. “As a result of this legislation, including the additional tax burden, AT&T will be evaluating prospective changes to the active and retiree health-care benefits offered by the company,” the telephone giant announced. Heavy equipment makers John Deere and Caterpillar also announced the law would cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.
Lawmakers were dismayed. “The new law is designed to expand coverage and bring down costs, so your assertions are a matter of concern,” Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak wrote in letters to the heads of these companies. “They also appear to conflict with independent analyses.” The lawmakers “asked” the CEOs to appear at congressional hearings. That’s like “asking” your child to come to the dinner table. It’s an offer they can’t refuse.
But those hearings were cancelled as it became clear that the execs were right. The health care bill does contain hidden costs that will burden companies for years to come. Meanwhile, both the Congressional Budget Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have upped their estimates of the bill’s price tag.
The shame here is that lawmakers could have taken some simple steps to cover the uninsured. They could have encouraged the formation of pools where individuals could buy insurance. They could have allowed citizens to buy insurance across state lines.
Instead, lawmakers changed the entire insurance system in ways that won’t become entirely apparent for years.
Keep this in mind as politicians weigh in on immigration reform. Most demand a “comprehensive” approach. As President Barack Obama put it during a White House appearance with his Mexican counterpart, “from the time that I was a U.S. senator through the time that I ran for president until now I have consistently said that I’m supportive of a comprehensive immigration reform approach.”
But this needlessly complicates matters. Illegal immigration is, simply, illegal. There’s no need to wait on “comprehensive” measures to prevent it.
The federal government could finish building a fence along the Mexican border, and could deploy more manpower to catch those who cross illegally. Those simple steps would go a long way toward enforcing existing law and solving our illegal immigration problem.
Of course, the judicial branch does its fair share of complicating simple issues, too. In his new book “Packing the Court,” historian James MacGregor Burns laments that conservatives are judicial “activists” and often use the Supreme Court to advance a political agenda.
But that gets things backward. Conservative “activism” generally boils down to reading the Constitution and assuming it means what it says and says what it means. Nothing could be simpler.
For example, the Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” In District of Columbia v. Heller, a case often cited as conservative activism, the court merely held that this means the government can’t ban handguns.
On the other hand, consider the court’s explanation for Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that led to the creation of a “right to privacy” and eventually to Roe v. Wade. Justice William Douglas cited the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Amendments, writing, “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that give them life and substance.”
One of his colleagues, MacGregor explains, concurred in the creation of a right to privacy, but located it in the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. Another relied only on the Fourteenth. Now that’s activism, and complicated activism at that. Too bad the justices didn’t keep it simple, and follow the text of the Constitution.
KISS is currently touring Europe, but plans some American stops later this year. Policymakers might want to catch a show. Even if they can’t, they ought to make it a point to “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It’s the best way to get the right things done.