By Howard, Philip K.
Newsweek , Vol. 157, No. 16
Byline: Philip K. Howard
The government-shutdown drama displays Washington's big-picture paralysis. Our team of 20 leaders and experts suggests small, common-sense ideas that can get America moving forward right now.
Watching last week's government shutdown face-off, as symbolic things like Planned Parenthood became proxies in a dysfunctional game of chicken, it was impossible not to wonder how these guys will ever solve the huge problems our country faces. Government isn't just broke--it's broken.
And this breakdown goes past a culture of spending, as Republicans argue, or a regressive tax policy, as Democrats might counter. Decades of accumulated laws, often obsolete, have created a government paralysis of its own making.
This giant junkyard of laws and regulations that are individually well meaning collectively act as a dead tyrant. Balancing budgets is impossible when so many policies come cast in legal concrete--farm subsidies from the New Deal made sense then, but they now send $15 billion in taxpayer dollars each year mostly to corporations because lawmakers cow to special interests. Bureaucracy crushes teachers; doctors order tens of billions in unnecessary tests to protect themselves from lawsuits; businesses forgo new opportunities because of bureaucratic hurdles; green infrastructure gets sidetracked by endless, mandated reviews.
In an ideal world, we'd scrap the byzantine legal framework we've inherited and rebuild simpler systems that permit flexibility to meet today's needs. (I'm helping launch a new campaign, Start Over, to push political leaders in that direction.) A general sunset law--every law with budgetary implications would automatically expire every 10 years unless reenacted--would impose some automatic review.
In the short term, there are solutions that we could start with now. We pulled together 20 prominent Americans to nominate elegant policy fixes--from education tweaks to job-killing rules--rooted in common sense and designed to attract support from all political stripes. America needs to hold its representatives accountable to a simple philosophy: if it's broken, fix it.
Former CEO, Google
Neutralize frivolous patent claims
America's patent system des-perately needs reform. Sadly, it's become a tool for people who produce nothing but patents of dubious validity, and frivolous lawsuits targeting the profits of true invention. Companies often settle rather than risk losing millions of dollars in front of a jury, and consumers, innovation, and the economy all suffer for it. Since patent law's original purpose was promoting innovation, infringement-claim damages should be tied to the actual value added by a patented feature--not the entire product, which might have thousands of parts. Also, there should be a more effective reevaluation process after patents are issued, thus reducing expensive, time-wasting litigation. The history of America is one of amazing innovation. Let's give our best companies and minds the protection to keep dreaming big, and moving us forward.
FORMER Senator, N.J.
Introduce health courts
The medical-malpractice justice system has a 25 percent error rate, according to a Harvard study. Anyone who has spent time in hospitals has witnessed the resulting "defensive medicine"--tests and procedures ordered by doctors mainly to show they did all they could. All this unnecessary medicine adds up--an estimated $100 billion annually. One obvious change is to replace the current system with health courts: special judges, advised by neutral experts, who would make written rulings on accepted standards of care. These courts would affirmatively defend wrongly accused doctors, and prove much better for patients injured by mistakes, with payments made within a year, not the five years typical today. I was thrilled to see President Obama's budget include $250 million to help states pay for new systems of justice for health care. …