By John Ballard
Cass Sunstein is leaving his role as administator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, otherwise know as the Regulatory Czar.
[He] came to Washington to test his theories of human behavior and economic efficiency in the laboratory of the federal government. Now he is departing with a record that left many business interests disappointed and environmental, health and consumer advocates even more unhappy.
Mr. Sunstein, 57, who projected an air of disheveled academic detachment while becoming one of the Obama administration's most provocative figures, announced Friday that he was leaving government to return to Harvard Law School.
Applying a cost-benefit analysis to his reviews of proposed rules, he said his goal was simply to make the nation's regulatory system "as sensible as possible."
His critics saw it differently.
"Cass Sunstein is the most well-connected and smartest guy who's ever held the job," said Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform and a professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. "But he's also done untold damage."
Since we haven't heard much about him and he appears to have pissed off allies and opponents alike he must have done a pretty good job. I put together a post about the guy a couple years ago and nothing in his leaving comes as any surprise to me. He and the boss are reported to be long-time friends and the "nudge" approach has been a hallmark of this administration's management style from the start. Except for a few targeted assassinations, most people would agree that kicking ass isn't the president's strong suit. Nudging is not the same as letting others step on you. Think wrestling. Graeco-Roman has an array of straqtegic moves but Sumo takes nudging to an art form.
Two examples of how nudging works come to mind...
The phrase leading from behind has never before, to my knowledge, been applied to a president or anyone else in a position of leadership. But that phrase has popped up repeatedly over the last two or three years, most prominently regarding Libya.
The evidence is building: As we move toward making the Affordable Care Act a reality, Medicare spending in slowing, and even in the private sector, for the first time in more than a decade, insurers are focusing on reining in health care costs .
The passage of reform legislation two years ago prompted a change in how both health care providers and payers think about care. The ACA told insurers that they would no longer be able to shun the sick by refusing to cover those suffering from pre-existing conditions. They also won't be allowed to cap how much ithey will pay out to an desperately ill patient over the course of a year -or a lifetime. Perhaps most importantly, going forward, insurance companies selling policies to individuals and small companies will have to reimburse for all of the "essential benefits" outlined in the ACA-benefits that are not now covered by most policies. This means that, if they hope to stay in business, they will have to find a way to "manage" the cost of care-but they won't be able to do it by denying needed care.
That's a subject for another post if I get around to it. (Maggie trimmed this down to a mere 3000+ words.) But the point is that nudging has started a process of long-overdue change. I sensed as much a couple months ago when I posted this.
The word unsustainable is more than a political nostrum. The train is leaving the station. The political types with their polls, weathervanes and double-talk will eventually figure out what needs to be done. But improvements to the system are already happening, with or without Obamacare.
That's what I call nudging in action.