Health and the Rule of Three

When policy debates heat up, it’s not enough for policy analysts to run the numbers and for political analysts to count votes and gauge the influence of affected interests. You also need communicators to craft a crisp, clean message. One that resonates with listeners consciously and, if possible, subconsciously.

Every word counts. As a result, one of the key communication battlegrounds is very basic: What do you call the policy?  If you can win the naming battle, you are a long way toward winning the policy war.

Having participated in a number of these debates, I would like to offer the following conjecture, which I will boldly characterize as a rule:

The Rule of Three:  If debate about an economic policy is sufficiently important, that policy will have three different names: one used by proponents, one used by opponents, and one used by non-partisan agencies that don’t want to take sides.

That rule is asserting itself today in the debate over reforming the health care system, much as it did in the debate over Social Security a few years ago.

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Linkfest

Some good items elaborating on topics I’ve discussed in the past week:

Drawing the Line on Health Insurance

Some of CBO’s most important decisions involve principles, not numbers. For example, CBO has to decide when proposed policies should be treated as part of the government — and thus be recorded on the budget for Congressional purposes — and when not. Many calls are easy. But then there’s health insurance reform.

The fine folks at the Congressional Budget Office have a reputation as the number-crunching, uber-geeks of the Congressional budget process.  And that’s a reputation they wear proudly (and I am proud to wear as an alum).

But some of CBO’s most important decisions involve principles, not numbers.  For example, CBO has to decide when proposed policies should be treated as part of the government — and thus be recorded on the budget for Congressional purposes — and when not.  Many calls are easy: taxes and spending are clearly governmental, hence in the budget.  Many regulations (e.g., minimum wages and environmental rules) are clearly outside; they may create benefits and impose costs just as taxes and spending do, but they still leave most choice and control in private hands.

And then there are the hard cases such as health insurance reform.

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