Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Barack Obama, Health Care and the Auto Industry

One of the most logical and forward thinking policy ideas I can remember came from Barack Obama a few years ago. In a nutshell, he said the U.S. government should assume the health care responsibilities of the retired auto workers in exchange for greatly increased fuel efficiency (or hybrids). This makes sense in so many ways, but I can't find any evidence that he still talks about it.

The auto industry has long maintained that their pension and health care costs for retired workers limits their ability to compete with other more nimble car makers. Considering how long the auto industry has been making this claim I think there is a sizable contribution to the problem from plain old poor management, but the obligations are real. While this agreement with one industry may seem at odds with a desire for universal coverage, what Obama's proposal does is it gets something back for taking over the obligations. The current health care proposals will cost billions, and the benefits are that everyone will get coverage. New proposals will also take a great deal of time to pass and implement.

Why shouldn't industry specific deals be made that generate benefits outside of health care? Cleaner, more fuel efficient cars and trucks seems like a pretty good outcome considering the public is likely to take over the auto industry's obligations anyway.

No comments: