Monday, March 29, 2010

The Legislative Yuan should be the Primary Mechanism for National Policy Debate

The Legislative Yuan should be the Primary Mechanism for National Policy Debate
United Daily News editorial
A Translation
March 29, 2010

Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai Ing-wen may debate ECFA. But this is not the normal way to conduct a national policy debate. This process occurred outside the system. The "Two Yings Debate" has highlighted the failure of national policy debate within the constitutional framework. In particular, it has highlighted the Legislative Yuan's failure to do its duty.

The controversy over ECFA has continued for a year and a half. The executive branch has failed to allay public anxieties. The main reason is the Blue camp majority in the legislature did not treat the problem seriously and failed to take aggressive action. That is not all. Health insurance fees have been raised. The civil service job performance evaluation system has turned into a major controversy. Most legislators watch idly. They have no intention of holding a debate to establish a community-wide consensus. As a result, the public has heaped all the responsibility on the shoulders of the executive branch. Meanwhile, the legislature sits to one side enjoying the breeze. Does such an entity truly merit the honorific, "The Legislature?"

What role should the legislature play in the formulation of national policy? A look at recent U.S. health-care reforms, which underwent a long and grueling process, should give us an answer. On the surface, reforms were single-handedly launched by President Barack Obama. But a deeper look reveals that once the decision was made, the ruling and opposition parties, as well as the public, debated its pros and cons. Both houses of congress, as well as federal and state governments, repeatedly scrutinized and revised its provisions. The impact of the new system on trade unions, hospitals, drug manufacturers and the insurance industry, has been made known to the upper echelons of government. One by one, the executive branch communicated and consulted with industry, and reached compromises.

Obama did not promote U.S. health care reform merely by virtue of his noble ideals and strength of will. He made use of the nation's democratic institutions. The various parties repeatedly clashed, but eventually reached a compromise. Members of the public still have many differences of opinion regarding the program. After ten months of debate, the house and the senate each proposed their own version. They debated the issue repeatedly before finally taking a vote. The version approved by the House of Representatives includes more than 2000 pages. It established hundreds of complicated rules for different kinds of insurees. The representatives debated all of them, one by one. In short, this ambitious blueprint for reform was not made possible by rumor mongering, fisticuffs, or physically occupying the podium.

Health insurance reform in the US was no less controversial than ECFA in the ROC. The Republican Party boycotted it. Even many Democrats found their hands tied by local interests and were unable to cast affirmative votes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shuttled back and forth. The Obama administration amended the abortion provisions, prohibiting federal funds for abortions. Only then was the Democratic Party able to secure enough votes for passage. Pelosi has her own ideology, but she is also pragmatic about political strategy. She was concerned more about party unity than about seeking a government-opposition alliance. This is the main reason the White House bill was able to pass its reforms. Reform cannot be realized through ideals alone. One must also take into account reality and feasibility. The more times a policy has been forged under intense heat, the stronger it becomes.

But the Legislative Yuan of the ROC seems to have forsaken its responsibility to reflect public opinion and to establish a public consensus. The Legislative Yuan could have been more aggressive about promoting ECFA. It could have encouraged the executive to offer a better sales pitch. It could have played a role as communicator, allowing different industries holding different opinions the opportunity to dialogue. The Legislative Yuan is the nation's highest representative body. If it had been doing its job, why would Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai Ing-wen need to hold a debate outside the government framework? The process of dispelling public doubts could have been conducted by the legislature via public hearings or other means. Any exchange of views would have been more extensive and diverse. But ruling and opposition party legislators were indifferent. Some attempted to incite even greater conflict. The legislature's indifference and negativity reveal just how alienating politics on Taiwan can be.

Our current political predicament is not the result of Blue vs. Green confrontation. It is the result of no means to bridge the great divide. That is why the two sides can only resort to populist demagoguery. That is why they can only shout propaganda at each other, and spread rumors about each other. But decisions are often not made at the extremes of the spectrum, between black and white. Rather, they are often made between zero and one. Finding a balance, where the winner does not take all, and the loser does not lose all, is a political art.

The legislature can transform itself into a forum for the debate of political and policy issues. Government and opposition legislators can introduce different opinions from different regions and constituencies. Such turmoil helps the executive branch understand the problem. It enables it to find the best solution for policy dilemmas. KMT legislators hold far more seats in the legislature. Yet it is unable to shepherd the ruling party's decisions through the legislature. What a shame. If DPP legislators engage in indiscriminate obstructionism out of ideological bias, then they are selfish and contemptible. Lest we forget, the legislature has had its seats reduced by half. But its ability to oversee the nation's affairs must not be reduced by half.

2010.03.29 02:34 am









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