Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Washington D.C.

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Meeting Bill Archer

Gary James '10 - It's not everyday (or every year for that matter) that you get to meet a former congressman who was chairman of a Congressional power committee. Well, that's what happened to our group on Tuesday when we met former Representative Bill Archer, a senior policy advisor for a national tax service.

       We walked down to Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP and spend an hour-and-a-half listening to Archer's stories about his days in Congress and how difficult policy making can be. In a host of policy areas, he described to us his repeated run-ins with a gridlocked congress.

       On healthcare, Archer described the problems that everyone knows about: the uninsured, the escalating costs eating away at profit margins, and the threat of malpractice suits. All together, they create an issue network that stopped many reforms in their tracks, particularly attempts at universal healthcare. Archer rejects the idea of a single payer system, in which government is the primary purchaser of health insurance, because he believes it would reduce choice and quality in healthcare overall.

      Instead, Archer is a proponent of private health savings accounts. He did much of the preliminary work as well as heavy lifting legislatively on private accounts before he left congress in 2001. The concept was expanded after he left. Even so, he says he still does not know how to go beyond the partisanship to attempt bigger things.

                                                     He tried to get a number of groups, including the Government Accountability Office, to do
comprehensive studies of the entire healthcare system and make suggestions. The task was too daunting for them. Archer says the beginning of any major reform should focus on identifying cost drivers - areas like administration that are driving costs up - isolating them, and finding legislative solutions. The problems is healthcare is a huge issue area, highly political in some parts, and there are fundamental disagreements about the role of government versus the role of the market.

     On energy policy, Archer described his frustrations with some members who supported
subsidies for corn-based ethanol, which he says is not as efficient as some would like to believer. On Social Security policy Archer's attempts to augment the current system into personal retirement accounts did not gain passage either. The AFL-CIO couldn't support it because of the fear of losing retirement security. Conservative groups like the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation opposed it because they disagree with ideas like Social Security completely. And the President could not risk opposing Labor again after NAFTA. So it died.

    It's a tough world out there. Every interest group has its stand on what's important to them. When dealing with a huge issue like health policy, it is very challenging to address all the concerns without mobilizing impassioned opposition from another issue area where that would be affected.

Although Archer could not give much advice for dealing with these realities and the partisanship, he did provide a great context for what goes on in our nation's capital.

First Picture:  Jonathan Torrez '10 shaking hands with Mr. Archer.

Second Picture:  Archer explaining the difficulty in making policy.

Third Picture:  Our group sitting in the boardroom, listening to Mr. Archer.