The Dance of Legislation

I’m still in the process of finishing The Dance of Legislation. As I wrote earlier, I think it does a good job of covering the intricacies of a process that’s often not part of the public consciousness, that pushing and shoving to get something through the many cogs to an actually implementable policy. 

But at the same time, I think reading this reminds me of so many of the problems that are inherent, and the dangers and risks even for the very well intentioned. 

He mentions a discussion with a student society, persuading them to engage to achieve a simpler goal within a shorter timeframe, walking away from larger aspirations. As he says, ‘the perfect is often the enemy of the good’. Throughout, he’s honest about the compromises and contortions he (and the people he works for and with) go through to get a simple idea (a domestic Peace Corps equivalent, with doctors funded to work in poorer communities) into place. Because of existing structures, they become embroiled in a fight over the state of the Public Health Service, itself an appendage of a larger bureaucratic structure, with the President and his advisors opposed to key senators, and different parts of the department (Health, Education and Welfare, from memory) also split. 

And at the same time, this reform or program they propose is, as he explains quite honestly, initiated by someone outside the process, a doctor who hassles his Senator. Granted, there are other supporters, and the idea doesn’t seem to be without merit. But as he describes his travails getting the piece of legislation through Congress, it’s hard not to ask how worthy it is, if it’s an idea pitched by a lobbyist and drafted by a twenty-something year old staffer. 

Finally there’s an aspect which remains a mystery to me, which is the inter-relationship between the United States Congress and the President of the United States. As he notes, they share some powers (particularly around funding for departments) – it’s a strange power structure. 

I’m still enjoying the book, and I like how honest he is about his step-by-step processes. But I’m reminded that he has a partisan view, and some of the features of the ‘Dance’ that he describes as challenges may be appropriate, given how he’s starting from a very particular starting point. 

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