10 things you missed from yesterday’s Robert Reich panel

Levy Yun/File
Professor Robert Reich

For those of you who are midterm-submerged, cheeks-still-bulging-from-Taco-Tuesday fare, the Clog has come to fill your political fix. To help you make those A+ contributions to your discussion (or impress that attractive poli sci GSI), we’ve compiled a list of the most important takeaways from the Federal Budget panel Wednesday afternoon, or what the Clog refers to as “the budget burster brawl at Berkeley’s Wurster Hall.”

1. All-Star Team. The speakers were Henry Brady (dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy), Lanhee Chen (policy director of the Romney 2012 campaign) and our larger-than-life professor Robert Reich (former secretary of labor).

2. History lesson. Brady gave us a surprisingly in-depth look at the last 250 years of American history … in his five-minute intro. We’re pretty sure that’s a world record.

3. A Cardinal in the Bear’s Den. Chen started his speech with “I come here with trepidation that there are two strikes against me. First, I am a conservative Republican. Second, I teach at Stanford.” Apparently this was a pretty formal event, since the audience was lacking in the “hissing” and “booing” department.  We’re sure the Bears were saving up for that night’s basketball game.

4. Sequester Semester.  “I don’t think the sequester is such a bad thing,” insisted Chen, adding that, “The magnitude of the cuts finally means we have a mechanism to reduce spending.” Both Brady and Reich fired back. Brady argued that further cuts would weaken Cal’s research program and its financial aid commitments. Looking nationally, Reich warned that the “sequester is very dangerous — half of it cuts nondiscretionary, nonmilitary spending. These will hurt those that are most vulnerable in society.”

5.  Flip-flop. The main event was to discuss the impacts of the sequester and the national debt. But the talk quickly devolved into a clash over the future of health care costs. And then stayed that way for the hour.

6. Reich came, he saw, he conquered. As the battle over health care policy began, Chen insisted that the best way to reduce health care costs was to further commercialize it with “a greater consumer dynamic and transparency over quality.” But Reich countered with the idea that greater “consumer choice only makes a lot of sense on the macro level. But most Americans get their health insurance from their employers and select out of three of four plans.” He stressed that because most people don’t know every possible healthcare package, it actually makes them susceptible.

7. So sick. According to Reich, “We have the only health care system where insurers avoid sick people.” To solve this, he proposed additional state-led accountable care organizations aimed to incentivize outcome-based care (as opposed to fee-for-service), as stipulated by the Affordable Care Act. For Brady, the fact that the rate of increase of health care costs has gone down recently is evidence that the Affordable Care Act was “the most magnificent accomplishment of Obama’s first term.”

8. Forever Young. Buzzing with ideas, Reich added that immigration reform should be closely aligned with entitlement reform. “Every rich nation is facing problems with an aging population. Only young, developing nations have the populations that could offset this.”

9. Compromise, what’s that? After brief discussion on taxation, closing loopholes and Chen noting that Romney’s health care bill “bears similarity” to Obama’s, the panelists were asked about the future. Both Brady and Chen thought that Democrats and Republicans would fail to reach a grand bargain within Obama’s second term. As for Reich? After spending a minute summarizing the Republican platform, he emphasized “by the way, they are wrong!”

10. Reich’s top three things to get out of the event. We spoke to Reich after the event for any final thoughts he had on American politics. He told us, “First, that students have to understand that the biggest (political) challenges are  jobs, wages and income inequality and not the federal deficit. Second, that the long-term solution is not to bring the amount of federal debt down but its ratio of debt to GDP. One way to do this is through economic growth. Third, that certain items such as investments in education, infrastructure, and research and development should be made regardless of budget deficit if social return is greater than cost.”