Category Archives: Politics

A Retrospective on Healthcare, and Where Do We Go from Here?


800px-Capitol_Building_Full_ViewRegular readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of Obamacare. It is overly prescriptive, too costly, and has been poorly implemented. Readers also know that I have said from the beginning that it needed corrections.

I have never been hung up on whether Congress called it repeal or replacement, as long as our healthcare system was fixed . . . or at least improved.

In November 2013, I recommended the following reforms:

  • Put all forms of health insurance (employer-based and other) on an equal footing
  • Permit a wide variety of insurance plans, from catastrophic plans to high-deductible plans to those with varying levels of coverage and exclusions
  • Provide direct subsidies to the poor and seriously ill so they can purchase healthcare coverage on the open market
  • Repeal the individual and employer mandates

I said,

“In short, the type of healthcare insurance to buy should become a decision that individuals make, not the government. Insurers should be free to design policies that consumers want, and to price them at levels that are profitable. We should abandon the notion that the federal government knows what one-size-fits-all insurance programs are ‘best’ for Americans.”

The Republican bill that Congress could not pass, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), was far from perfect in addressing my concerns, but it addressed some of them. I thought it was better than the Obamacare statute as it exists now. Frankly, the fact that no one liked it made me think the AHCA was as good as we were going to get.

But it went nowhere. Apparently, the split between the ultra-conservative and the establishment branches of the Republican Party is wider than 218 votes, and no bill could bridge the gap.

As the Wall Street Journal stated on March 24, 2017, in The ObamaCare Republicans:

“[The AHCA] worked off the reality that the U.S. health system has changed under ObamaCare and thus an orderly transition is necessary to get to a free-market system without throwing millions off insurance. The GOP also is a center-right coalition with competing views and priorities. The bill had flaws but was the largest entitlement reform and spending reduction in recent decades.”

So, given that Obamacare needs reform, where do we go from here?

I don’t know.

HHS sealHHS Secretary Tom Price can work on regulatory reforms, but only within the confines of the Obamacare language. Some of the most pressing issues are part of the statute and cannot be changed (though the Obama administration delayed some of them, or gave exceptions, and perhaps the Trump administration will do the same). Some of these issues include:

  • The tax on medical devices
  • The details of the mandated benefits (“essential health benefits”)
  • The Cadillac tax on employer healthcare plans, which, if implemented, will suck in more and more employers over time as the cost of mandated benefits rises

The fundamental problem with healthcare in the U.S. is that most Americans have not paid the full cost of their care since the 1930s, when employers began offering medical insurance as a benefit. As with all consumer goods and services, Americans want high quality, high quantity, and low prices on healthcare. Any economist can tell you that you can’t have all three—two of the three is the best you can hope for. The ideal system is often a compromise on all three. When healthcare prices are artificially lowered for the consumer, they make irrational decisions on quantity and quality—overusing the system and expecting Cadillac care for Fiat prices.

In my opinion, our healthcare system will not be fixed until employer-based plans are no longer the preferred way of covering the cost. Don’t get me wrong, many employers do an excellent job of managing their healthcare benefit plans. But the distortion in the market caused by these plans is increasing and is only made worse by Obamacare.

The different tax treatment of employer-based premiums and premiums for individual plans is unfair. The proposed AHCA would have helped in that regard, though it wouldn’t have fixed the problem entirely.

As the Wall Street Journal editorial said:

“An ideal free health-care market is never going to happen in one sweeping bill. The American political system is designed to make change slow and difficult, thank goodness. Republicans have to build their vision piece by piece, carefully gauging how to sustain their policy gains politically—the same way Democrats expanded the welfare and entitlement state over the last century.”

I suppose that’s where we go from here.

What do you think?

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Breaking Impasse: In Congress, in Mediation, and in Life


handshake-1830764_1280A few days ago I met with a small group of professional women I know. All of us had had successful corporate careers, though our lives are taking different turns at the moment. As in many group meetings these days, at some point the conversation turned to a discussion of politics. I am probably the most conservative member of this group. Others are moderate, and a couple are quite liberal, though we all are within what I would call the “mainstream,” or center, of our political spectrum today.

We started discussing when our political system got off track—when the Republican and Democrat parties quit compromising to get things done. Some blamed Republicans for their “never say yes” attitude during the Obama Administration. These women argued, “Well, of course, the Democrats have to behave the same way now.”

Others blamed past Democratic actions, going all the way back to Senator Ted Kennedy’s scorched-earth approach to stop the Robert Bork nomination to the Supreme Court—a legal scholar who was clearly as qualified as any candidate since for the Supreme Court. “Well, of course, the Republicans have to retaliate.”

And there are many other events we could point to that might have started—or escalated—the current impasse in our political system.

Impasse, I thought to myself. We are at impasse. What has my mediation training taught me about breaking impasse?

I’ve mentioned before a mediation training presentation I attended with Ken Cloke, of the Center for Dispute Resolution. One point Mr. Cloke made during the program was that when we are in conflict with others, we have choices to make. Some of the choices we must make are

  • Whether to engage in the conflict and behave badly, or calm down and try to discuss it.
  • Whether to acknowledge the other person’s truth or deny it, remain rooted in one’s own story, and slip into biased or delusional thinking.
  • Whether to experience intense negative emotions and feelings, or to repress and sublimate them.
  • Whether to experience one’s opponent as an equal human being entitled to respect, or to demonize him or her and victimize oneself.
  • Whether to aggressively assert and hold tight to one’s position, or to search for solutions that satisfy both sets of interests.
  • Whether to forgive, reconcile and re-integrate with one’s opponent, or remain isolated and wounded deep inside.

Now, I can hear most of us saying, “Yeah, but . . . “

Yeah, but she started it.

Yeah, but he is engaging in alternative facts; there is no truth on his side.

Yeah, but I cannot repress how I feel on this issue.

Yeah, but there is no way to reconcile our two positions.

Yeah, but . . . .

Yeah, but . . . What if you did?

What if you did calm down? What if you did at least ask why the other side feels the way they do? What if you did search for solutions with an open mind? What if you did try to reconcile or compromise?

What’s the worst that could happen if you did seek compromise? It’s unlikely to be worse than the status quo.

While I started this post describing the political differences we face in our nation today, I hope readers see that the questions I’ve asked apply to most situations where we need to negotiate with others. In the corporate world. In consumer and family situations. Wherever we are obliged to work with others, we should ask

What if we tried to understand the other party’s position?

What if we tried to compromise?

Would we be any worse off than if we did nothing?

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Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Mediation, Politics, Workplace

What Does the Trump Administration Mean for Human Resources?


human-1181577_1280The next several months—and likely the next few years—will be a roller coaster for Human Resources professionals. The differences between the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration are stark in many government arenas, but labor and employment is surely one of the areas where the differences are the most dramatic.

Here are some of the most likely changes that HR will have to address with their organization’s management in the short-term:

1. Immigration

Immigration practice is likely to change, with some changes coming quickly and others developing over the course of several months and years. In the short term, E-Verify will be expanded to check all new workers, and I-9 forms are likely to see increased audits. Industries that are dependent on immigrant workers—both high-tech companies needing H1-B visa holders and those like hospitality firms that need manual and service workers—are likely to see a slow-down in their ability to bring in foreign workers. HR will need to have compliance programs in place.

2. Overtime

The Department of Labor changes to the overtime exemption rule will likely be reversed. Business had objected strongly to raising the exempt salary threshold to $913 per week ($47,476 per year), though most organizations had begun—or even completed—their transition to this increased bright line between exempt and nonexempt positions. Currently, the rule is in limbo, as a federal court has enjoined its implementation, but how the court will rule finally is unknown and the timing uncertain. The new Department of Labor could decide to drop its defense and let the injunction become permanent. Or DOL could propose some modifications. HR will need to advise management on whether to retain changes that have already been implemented and communicated, whether to reverse them, whether to take a “wait and see” approach, or some combination of all of these.

3. Health Benefits

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will change. But the scope and direction of the modifications and repair of this complex statute and its even more complex regulatory scheme have not yet been determined. At the moment, HR can’t do anything, but this is an area that will necessitate time and effort, no matter what happens.

4. Union Organizing

Many NLRB rulings are likely to be reversed. The timing of these changes will depend on when President Trump fills the vacant seats on the Board, but as soon as Republican appointees have a majority, it is likely that we will see a significant tilt toward management-favored positions. In the immediate future, some of the pro-union policies favored in the Obama Administration, such as “quickie elections” and the “persuader” rule (requiring attorneys and other consultants to disclose clients whom they advise on union organizing issues), should be axed. The broadening of the joint employer doctrine—which the Obama Administration had pushed—may also be rolled back.

5. Downsizing

Reductions in force in major employers are likely to receive increased public scrutiny. If jobs are moving overseas, employers need to be ready to justify their moves and to respond to possible Presidential attention.

And over the longer term, HR can add the following changes to its project list:

  • The Obamacare changes are a long-term issue. It is unlikely that employers will need to change anything for 2017, and even 2018 is uncertain.
  • State and local legislative developments will become a bigger area of concern. Issues such as minimum wage increases and paid family leave are likely to see more movement at the state and local levels than through Congress.
  • Diversity practices may get murkier. The mandate for affirmative action at federal contractors may be weakened or repealed, though Congress might push back on President Trump on this issue if he goes too far. HR will need to work with organizational leaders in determining the best diversity policies for their workplace.
  • Also on the diversity front, employees with strongly held religious beliefs may seek greater freedom to object to work assignments and/or to display signs of their beliefs in the workplace. With Christians feeling empowered and Muslims feeling threatened, greater religious tensions in some workplaces are possible. HR will have to assist managers in working through these conflicts.
  • Whether President Trump will support broader immigration reform and whether Congress can pass such legislation are unknowns at this time.

The Society for Human Resource Management has set up a page monitoring workforce developments under the new Trump Administration. It is worth following.

I’ll revisit these issues in a few months to see what changes have developed.

HR professionals, which issue do you most hope changes under the Trump Administration?

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Strategic Trolling: In the White House and in Business


donald-trump-2005343_1280We wondered whether Donald Trump would stop tweeting after the November 8 election. The answer was no. We wondered whether he would stop tweeting after the Inauguration. The answer is still no. And much of the nation does not know how to deal with a President who tweets and says anything and everything that enters his head.

We need to figure it out.

A few editorial pieces recently have begun talking about how to respond to the “alternative facts” and exaggerations and outright untruths that President Trump and his advisers have spoken or written. The partisans are trying to label everything as outrageous and respond to it all. The more thoughtful commentators are talking about the need to pick their battles.

On January 23, Russ Douthat wrote in an editorial titled “The Tempting of the Media,” in The Kansas City Star,

“. . . the press may be tempted toward—and richly rewarded for—a kind of hysterical oppositionalism, a mirroring of Trump’s own tabloid style and disregard for truth.”

The danger for the media, he wrote,

“is the same danger facing other institutions in our republic: that while believing themselves to be nobly resisting Trump, they end up imitating him.”

Only if the media, our politicians, and others who must deal with the new Administration keep our responses rational will we be able to influence the results effectively.

Also on January 23, Barton Swaim wrote for The Wall Street Journal, in “Trump, the Press and the Dictatorship of the Trolletariat,”

“few journalists have appreciated the degree to which Mr. Trump’s entire political and governing strategy depends on trolling them. They’ve mostly assumed his penchant for exaggeration and invention was the result of psychosis, or just ego. By now, though, it ought to be apparent that he’s doing it intentionally, and strategically.”

(“Trolling” he defined as “[deliberately kindling] acrimony by making outrageous, offensive or confusing remarks.”)

On the PBS NewsHour on January 27, David Brooks commented that President Trump’s style was unnerving business leaders, the political class, and mainstream Republicans. He said that there could be two explanations for the President’s behavior—either he is “an authoritarian figure who is twisting words in an Orwellian manner,” or “he a 5-year-old who has an ego that needs to be fed.” So Mr. Brooks uses labels similar to Mr. Swaim’s psychosis and ego.

Mr. Swaim suggested that we focus on what matters and ignore what does not.

How many people filled the National Mall during the Inauguration doesn’t matter. Calling the press dishonest human beings may rankle, but it doesn’t matter. Whether the CIA employees gave our new President a lengthy standing ovation doesn’t matter.

By contrast, the cost in dollars and international goodwill of building a wall along the Mexican border matters. How to revise and improve our health care system matters. How best to engage with the rest of the world on trade, on terrorism, and on many other topics, matters.

Mr. Brooks mentioned the civil servants in government and Congress as possible checks on the Administration’s proposals. As he said (in the most humorous line of the January 27 NewsHour broadcast), “civil servants have many ways to not do something.”

All this reminds me of a couple of high-level corporate executives I worked with, who also used “trolling” strategically, though we didn’t call it that then. Both of these individuals were masters at taking a meeting off on a tangent when they didn’t want to make a decision. They used offensive commentary about other employees, raised unimportant issues, and demanded answers on picayune points to derail the meeting.

But because they were usually the highest ranking employee in the room, calling them out on these tactics was difficult. Forcing a decision was practically impossible unless their boss was in the room, and even then could only be done by putting them on the spot, which usually wasn’t worth the later ramifications. The only way to deal with the situation was in another one-on-one meeting, where they didn’t feel put on the spot to decide and could debate the pros and cons without revealing ignorance or uncertainty.

Those around President Trump and those who need to confront him need to develop similar ways of responding to his trolling. He has a strategy that is working for him so far, and his opposition—as well as his friends—need to respond strategically also.

When have you had to deal with trolling executives?

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Historical Patterns of Party Power


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As I have watched and read about the events of the last week unfold, from the confirmation hearings to the inauguration to the marches around our nation, I was most struck by one graphic in The Wall Street Journal, published on p. A5 of the U.S. edition on January 21, 2017. This graphic shows the distribution of power between Republicans and Democrats in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives from the Eisenhower era to the present—essentially, for my entire life.

I’ve pasted a copy of this graphic above. Here is a link to a PDF of the graphic, if you need better resolution to view it. The information in this graphic really deserves some time and thought—and better commentary than I am able to give.

We are a nation of divided power, and have been for most of the last forty years. Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter could count on Democrats in the legislature to back them (and vice versa—Congress could count on a President of the same party to sign their bills). But since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980—now 36 years ago—here is the sum total of the periods in which we have had a Presidency united with both houses of Congress:

  • Bill Clinton got two years, 1993-1995
  • George W. Bush got six years, 2001-2007 (if you count the Vice-President breaking the tie)
  • Barack Obama got two years, 2009-2011

Only ten of the past thirty-six years have seen our executive and legislative branches united. Four of those years have had Democrat leadership, and six have had Republican.

And now Donald Trump in 2017 . . . for how long?

Another fact jumped out at me from this visual. Congress was a Democrat institution from the 1950s until the 1990s. I knew this intellectually, but seeing it in red and blue in this graphic hit me in the face. No wonder there was a steady trend toward more liberal policies through that forty-year era.

I remember watching the election returns in November 1980 with some conservative coworkers (who were more conservative than I was at the time). As it became apparent that the Republicans would take the Senate, they became increasingly elated—something was happening that most of them had not seen in their adult lives. They were giddy with the possibilities.

The shift toward Republicans began in the Senate with Reagan in 1980, but it didn’t infiltrate the House until Bill Clinton’s administration. The Democrats took Congress back in 2007, and kept it through the first two years of Barack Obama’s administration. Given their forty-year history of control, they must have felt they were taking back their birthright (though, of course, it never was that). But our memories are not so short that we forget that Democratic hubris during the passage of the Affordable Care Act led to the loss of first the House and then the Senate.

As I perused this chart, I wondered if there wasn’t more moderation in both parties when the Democrats could count on holding Congress. There was certainly more breadth to both Democrat and Republican legislators in that pre-Clinton era. Now that both parties can see the possibility of having the majority in the legislative branch, they pander more to their bases. As each takes power from the other, they try to capitalize as much as possible on enacting their goals in the short-term, because they cannot count on the long-term. And they do everything they can to blame the other party, in the hopes of swaying voters to give them back (or let them keep) the reins.

Perhaps we need to consider how parliamentarian systems transfer power without total lurches from one extreme to the other. Or how to deal with those lurches when they happen. The U.S. does not have any institutional memory on how to cope with total shifts in power.

Of course, Donald Trump comes to his term in office as an outsider, with few connections to the Republican Congress that will serve with him. I wonder how his populist strategy will fit with the Washington insiders. Will he reap the benefit of a compatible legislature, or will he distance himself from the Republicans in Congress he will need to implement the changes he says he wants?

Those are my major takeaways as I look at this historical picture of our nation’s distribution of power.

What thoughts to you have about this graphical history of U.S. politics?

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Workplace and Partisan Politics: Why Are the Rockettes Any Different Than Bakers or Pharmacists?


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Photograph by Seth Vidal on Flickr

Through the year-end holidays, one news story dealt with whether the Rockettes would perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration. First let me say that I’m not sure the Rockettes are the group I want to see during a Presidential inauguration, but be that as it may, their performance raises interesting political and workplace issues.

The controversy arose because some of the dancers did not want to perform in celebration of the election of a man they did not—and do not—support. After much discussion between dancers, their union, and the Rockettes’ owners, each dancer will now be able to individually choose whether or not to perform.

The reason some dancers objected to performing is the same reason many individual citizens and groups have objected to Donald Trump’s election—they dislike his opinions or his personality or his tactics. Some Rockettes indicated that President-elect Trump “stands for everything we’re against.”

Each individual citizen should have the right to hold such opinions and to voice those opinions. The question is, how far should each person’s dislike of a candidate, elected official, other public figure, or political position be permitted to take one in the workplace? Who decides whether the performance should ultimately take place—each individual worker or the management of the organization?

In this situation, we have workers—the dancers—who object to their talents being put on display for a cause they disapprove of. Yet, at least initially, their bosses told them the Rockettes had been hired to perform and they should therefore perform. The end result, however, is that individual workers can opt out of performing their job duties.

The same liberals who think this is a victory for the individual Rockettes would nevertheless force pharmacists to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and abortifacients that they think are morally objectionable. What is the difference?

And these same liberals who don’t think the Rockettes should be forced to use their creative talents for President-elect Trump nevertheless think that cake bakers and florists should be forced to put their creative imprimatur on LGBT weddings and other events that they do not approve of. What is the difference?

The difference is solely that these groups approve of the objections to President-elect Trump and they disapprove of businesses and employees who “discriminate” against liberal causes. This is hypocrisy; it is not the First Amendment (which has no sway in relations between a private employer and its workers anyway).

We are all going to have to watch our own hypocrisy in the months and years ahead.

This is not solely a liberal issue. It is also not only a workplace issue.

Conservatives will have to watch their own arrogance, now that they control the White House and both houses of Congress. While Republicans do not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, as the Democrats had from 2008 through 2010, Republicans are still going to have to avoid the arrogance that Democrats displayed during that period.

“I won” is not the end of the debate. We will have a better result if our government works for bipartisan solutions, or at least listens to opposing viewpoints and incorporates some acceptable positions from the minority.

And we must remember, if individual rights are good for people on one side of an issue, they are good for people on the other side. If they are good for some citizens, they are good for all. And if they are good in some workplaces, they are good in all.

Where do you see hypocrisy in government and the workplace?

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After the Election, Let’s Hope for Reconciliation, Not Gridlock


Well, the election last Tuesday didn’t produce gridlock, as I had hoped for two weeks ago. Frankly, when I wrote that post about gridlock, I fully anticipated a Clinton victory. I wasn’t eagerly awaiting that outcome, but that was what I thought would happen. I hoped for gridlock to contain the continued Democratic excesses I think have occurred in the last eight years.

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Donald Trump, photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Now that the President-elect is Donald Trump, do I still hope for gridlock? No. I am no more of a fan of Donald Trump’s than I was before the election, but I now hope for reconciliation.

I hope Republicans can develop a reasonable agenda. Not an agenda that pushes too far right. Not a wacky foreign policy that abandons our nation’s position in the world. But an agenda that earnestly works to improve the economic standing of all Americans.

I hope Republicans preserve the freedoms they value—religious freedom, gun rights, and a broad interpretation of the First Amendment—while also preserving freedoms for Americans who do not typically vote Republican—Muslim Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, non-Christian minorities, the LGBT community, and others who feel marginalized by the election results.

I also hope the Republican majorities in Congress will reach across the aisle to pull in Democrats’ ideas on solutions to the thorny problems facing our nation. Many Trump supporters only have to remember how they felt after the excesses of the Obama Administration to understand how Clinton supporters feel now. I hope Republicans learned a lesson from how they felt in 2008-2010, when a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate permitted Democrats to enact laws (including Obamacare) without any input from Republicans.

“Turn about is fair play” is not a good governing strategy for Republicans now.

I’m not optimistic. Not about the Republicans’ ability to work together within their party, nor about their ability to compromise with Democrats. I still would not be surprised to see gridlock. Perhaps not in the traditional sense of placing the Presidency and Congress in the hands of different parties. But Democrats in the Senate are likely to use filibusters and other procedural rules to retain a minority check on Republicans. And the Republicans will probably have difficulty uniting around an agenda. Gridlock is still quite possible.

Still, I hope I’m as wrong in my pessimism as I was about Hillary Clinton becoming the 45th President.

What is your hope for our nation in the next four years?

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