Message-maven culture killing compromise in Washington

Center for Public Integrity

Former congressional staffer Scott Lilly, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, testified at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week that lawmakers might be able to reach a bipartisan consensus on how to improve the congressional budget process if Washington were not ruled by public relations people and message mavens.

Lilly, who served as clerk and staff director of the House Appropriations Committee before moving to the liberal-leaning think tank, suggested to lawmakers, who are considering a move from an annual to a biennial budget, that the “biggest failing of the current process is that it has truly failed to inform our citizenry as to why the federal budget is growing at such a rapid pace.”

In a commentary shortly after his testimony, Lilly added that, “The current Congressional budget process is too elaborate, too time consuming and worse off controlled by message makers instead of legislators.” (Emphasis added.)

Lilly’s words could have applied to every other issue members of Congress take up, especially health care. Had message-makers not been in control of the debate over health care reform from the get-go, our citizenry would not be so ill informed about “Obamacare.” Even that word itself was coined by message-makers no reason other than to persuade us to think a certain way about the Affordable Care Act and to vote against any politician who supported it.   

Obama had not been in office more than four months when pre-eminent pollster and message-maker Frank Luntz sent Republican politicians and operatives a 28-page document entitled “The Language of Healthcare 2009: The 10 Rules for Stopping the ‘Washington Takeover’ of Healthcare.”

This was not a policy paper. There was hardly a word about what Republicans should do to improve the U.S. health care system.  It was a PR strategy for how Republicans could capitalize by using emotion-laden words and phrases to condemn anything the Democrats came up with. Keep in mind that congressional leaders and the White House were still in the process of exploring options for legislation at the time. Actual bills that Congress would ultimately vote for or against would not materialize for many months.

There’s more to this story. Click here to read the rest at the Center for Public Integrity.

This story is part of Wendell Potter. Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter writes about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform. Click here to read more stories in this blog.

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Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

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