Lots of talk on the Sunday chat shows about how the uncertainty over health care reform is discouraging businesses from hiring, since they don't know what sort of taxes, etc. they'll be facing. But if what business wants is certainty ... well, at this point the fastest way to get certainty is for the Dems to pass a bill quickly, no?
Well, that sort of makes sense. But (a) if businesses don't want to hire because they think health care reform will saddle them with new costs-- probably true-- passing the bill will presumably just get some of them to permanently cancel, rather than merely postponing, hiring plans. (b) It will probably take business a long time to figure just how much of a burden health care reform is and what the optimal response to it is in terms of employment, so the "certainty" Kaus wants would be a long time coming. (c) If some businesses are playing "wait and see" whether to hire, other businesses may be playing "wait and see" whether to fire employees who aren't worth keeping if they have to pay for their health care. In that case passing the bill would trigger more lay-offs. (d) Given how unpopular health care reform is, passing it might not be a political equilibrium and might not remove uncertainty. Business might still be just as uncertain-- or more so-- as they waited to see how the implementation-amidst-backlash plays out.
The real way to give business certainty is for health care reform to die. But the current Democratic Congress might not be able to credibly commit to killing it. So the pickup in hiring might have to wait till November 2010.
Health care reform makes for an interesting comparison to Social Security reform. Both were pursued at a time when one party controlled all branches of government. As a consequence, they were drafted in a way that was skewed too far in the direction of one party's preferences. Meanwhile the opposition had no stake in the legislation, and was in a position to expoit opportunistically the public's fears of change. It's too bad because, while the 2005 SS reform was on balance good and the 2009 health care reform on balance bad, both Social Security and health care need reform. The lesson may be that complex legislation has to be carried out in a bipartisan way, both to ensure that it's close enough to the median voter to get political traction, and because the public looks to the political class for signals about the quality of legislation and needs to see bipartisan support to overcome its suspicions about change. The 1996 welfare reform-- which may explain the late-1990s prosperity-- is the model to follow.