Policy Ideas, the Policy Debate, and Policy Formulation
Before policy can be made, a problem must be identified and, implicitly or explicitly, defined. That is perhaps one of the simplest statements which can be made about poliycmaking. We have seen in all of the foregoing chapters that there is nothing simple about policymaking generally or problem definition specifically. We conclude from Chapters 2 through 4 that the policy debate lends itself to a ferreting out of issues in a process of problem definition. We might also conclude that the policy debate can yield multiple definitions of a single problem deemed appropriate for addressing in a policy response. Within the context of the debate on rising energy costs and utility rate reform, we observed that two major policy debates took place, which were carried out in three major phases. The two debates embraced two major conceptions or definitions of the core problem as well as several variants of the major problem definitions.
What evolved into a debate on electric utility rate reform began as an effort to seek solutions to a specific societal problem, that of the adverse impacts of rising energy prices on the elderly poor. This is the more conventional image held of policymaking activities -- the search for a solution to a particular problem. The initial issue of rising energy costs might also be characterized as a relatively routine one. It involved an affected group, in this case elderly lowincome citizens, which presented a list of grievances in making a case for justifiable government intervention on its behalf in regard to a particular problem. The initial phase of the debate was dominated by the argument that the elderly were particularly adversely affected by rising energy costs. The commodity at issue -- energy for cooking, refrigeration, heating, and cooling -- was one essential to sustaining life in modern society. Affected individuals were not in a position to alleviate hardships by substituting another commodity. Thus