Posted by: dstieglitz | August 3, 2009

TIME TO EAT OUR BROCCOLI

    When I was six years old, my mother made me eat my broccoli before I could have ice cream for dessert. I wish my mother were in Congress today, because she would make other members raise revenue (i.e., eat their broccoli) before extending health insurance to 46 million uninsured people, issuing free cap-and-trade credits, and sending $787 billion in stimulus (i.e., three flavors of ice cream) to their favorite special interest groups. The plain truth is we either aren’t paying enough to support the government we need or we have more government than we can afford – maybe a little of both. There is no perfect plan that gives everybody everything they want – and allows them to keep everything they already have.

    It’s time to control spending and build new revenue sources, rather than to create new entitlement programs and cut taxes. For example, it makes no sense for Congress to continue ignoring the federal gasoline tax (it hasn’t changed since 1993) while we can’t afford to fix roads and bridges are literally falling down. We can make these hard choices today while the consequences are relatively mild, or delay action until the world forces a bankrupt U.S. government to make more loathsome decisions – like California is being forced to do. Yes, I mean raising income and capital gains taxes (and other revenue sources as well) even though I’m in the income group that President Obama and Congress view as a bottomless source of revenue.

     The health care debate is sizzling. Depending on which one you pick, the draft health care bills in Congress provide coverage for most Americans that don’t already have it, eliminate pre-existing conditions as insurance exclusions, and fund health care research. Those are all good things (ice cream) but, along with millions of other Americans, I don’t believe those actions will reduce the cost of health care. Unless a health care bill addresses controversial issues like the astronomical cost of malpractice insurance, marginally necessary fee-for-service procedures, and expensive end-of-live care (the broccoli), we are likely to see higher insurance premiums, reductions in the quality and availability of health care, restrictions on our choice of doctors and treatments, more expensive government bureaucracy, and trillions in new federal debt.

     The debates on energy policy and the environment, although playing second fiddle to health care, also have lots of ice cream and no broccoli. Certainly, investing in solar, wind, nuclear, and geothermal power (the ice cream) are essential to stimulate the economy, expand employment, and produce environmentally-friendly energy. But we also have a broccoli choice: Do we seize control of our oil supply and its environmental impacts, or continue to out-source those responsibilities to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia? That is what we do when we import $700 billion of oil each year instead of drilling our own oil under appropriate environmental controls. Plus, massive oil imports are pushing us toward national bankruptcy and record unemployment because we buy from other countries what we should produce for ourselves.

     Health care and energy policy are microcosms of the challenges that all business leaders face: making tough trade-offs when we don’t what know the future holds. Every business leader pushes for positive change – that’s what leaders are paid to do. Today, the need for change is intense. Workers are scared about their future and, in some cases, are angry at big business. They want things to change fast. But change isn’t just about doing different things – change means achieving better outcomes. Business leaders must be willing to give up the old and embrace the new even when the leap from the old to the new is dangerous. To be successful in times of rampant change, you must anticipate what the changes will be, embrace the changes, and use them to produce new successes. And that may require you to eat some broccoli before you can have your ice cream.

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