Open Discussion Forum - Finding Success

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Comment below on anything regarding the topic of policy implementation or specific things you found interesting about the readings or videos this week.

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When Patashnik discusses the challenges of policy reform, he describes a phenomenon when the reform has just passed and it is extremely vulnerable. He says that if it fails, the public will be more cynical about government and will likely attribute its failings to the elected officials who created it and approved of it. This reminded me of the Weaver reading we read last week about negativity bias. Voters usually have a vested interest in the status quo and if something veers away from that status quo and does not perform as planned, people will attribute it to the public officials. Voters will focus negativity on that, instead of positive actions taken by the elected official, when they decide whether or not they approve of that elected official.

Patashnik's discussion further explains the pressure elected officials are under and the challenges they face in making their constituents happy. This understanding allows one to more easily understand the challenge of passing reform and keeping it in place. When these reforms are undermined, they aren't given a full opportunity to have an impact on the status quo. Then the status quo is relied upon once again, even though it wasn't working in the first place. This situation results in tough decisions for the elected official, address a prevalent problem with a reform and give it time to form and take shape (even if the process is difficult) or succumb to the wishes of the constituency (even if they are not fully aware of why the reform is necessary).

The McConnell article, with its focus on policy evaluation, got me thinking about the role of its more specific cousin, program evaluation. Judy Randall from the Office of the Legislative Auditor came to the Program Evaluation course I TA for this year and told us about their processes. It was very impressive to hear about a nonpartisan government office that dedicates itself to using systematic inquiry to determine if taxpayers’ money is being used efficiently and effectively. They definitely live in the land of grey area and point to both multiple successes and points of failure or opportunity within programs. However, they have limited resources and cannot evaluate all of the programs they want to. On the back end, their reports are lengthy and while they sometimes testify for the legislature, they are not always read in detail. Because the media has a larger audience than the OLA, they become more important in the framing of whether a policy is a success or a failure. Just as Jacob Hacker got beat up when trying to bring his facts and analysis into the health care debate, here in Minnesota we don’t always use the facts we have. The mechanism of objectively evaluating our government programs is only effective to the extent that we incorporate the findings into our future policymaking.

One thing that stood out to me was Patashnik’s conclusion that ‘political sustainability considerations should be an integral part of policy design’. Throughout his reading, it is easy to understand why this is important—even substantive and functional reform like the TRA can become unraveled quite easily if the reform is not designed with sustainability in mind. I agree that this idea of political sustainability is largely an afterthought and is left undiscussed in many of our previous readings. Of course, it’s very difficult to get anything passed in the first place, especially comprehensive reform. However, without sustainability involved in policy design, all that hard work and years of effort can be undone all too easily. I believe the consideration of political sustainability makes for better policy design but also allows policymakers to evaluate the prospects of political suggestions.

In the readings this week, I found Patashnik's comment on partisan realignment as an essential staple for policy reform very interesting. In a general sense, it makes long-term reform on many of today's hot-button issues difficult to conceive seeing as the political cultural is highly polarized. While their are small glimmers of unity such as on immigration, most issues are currently plagued, even if passed, by a highly divided political culture that often sees unity as compromise. Thus, unless the hyper-polarization is mitigated, I envision long-term reform for important social policy programs such as Social Security continuing to evade the realm of possibility.

From the readings this week i found that polarization plays a key role in reforms before, during, and after. I find it interesting that politicians will chose to side with a reform they do not agree on only to wait for an opportunity to make changes. So, much like the example of the Tax Return Act, reforms will probably continuously change due to the polarization of the political culture. This makes it difficult not just for politicians to anticipate when and how reforms will change but from the Patashnik video, those who are directly impacted by changes. It makes it difficult to plan for the future especially if an you don’t know what politicians will do next to reforms. This makes even more important for a sustainable policy reform to prepare for the future.

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