The recent debacle over repealing and replacing Obamacare might have been avoided had the President and Congress applied these six best practices in mediation:
1. Stop the Clock. Trying to get House approval of the American Health Care Act on the anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act ignored a central premise of mediation: No clock-watching. Setting a deadline might work as a negotiating tactic. But mediation isn’t negotiation. Reaching consensus among opposing parties takes time and patience, especially when hammering out a measure that needs majority approval. Imposing a cut-off date for passing such complicated legislation guaranteed failure.
2. Be inclusive. To achieve the President’s campaign promise of a more effective health care system he and his Republican allies shouldn’t have tried going it alone. One reason Obamacare remains so polarizing is that it was a Democratic Party product. They alone own it. Republican members of two House committees produced their measure without fully involving hard-core conservatives and moderates from their own party….as well as Democrats. This was a recipe for failure.
Successful mediation requires inclusivity. Engaging opposing factions might take more time and spill some psychological blood. But excluding any of the concerned parties is sure to wreck the process.
3. Seek consensus, not victory. Reaching agreement by consensus is more time-consuming but in the end preferable to vanquishing the opposition. Even in our highly charged political arena where deadlock dooms most legislative efforts, Americans must surely grasp by now that democracy can only thrive if we engage in give and take politics. A winner-take-all approach ensures that losers will likely seek revenge.
4. Stop Dwelling on the Past; Focus on the Future: In mediation we inform parties that the process is ‘future-focused.’ There is nothing we can do to change the past. Focusing on the future means not blaming the opposing side about past deeds; rather target improving on what’s already done. Zeroing in on repealing Obamacare shifted the public’s focus away from the need to, among other goals, lower monthly premiums, reduce the deficit, and enhance the health of millions of Americans.
5. Be Transparent: Successful mediation depends on openness. No secrets. No behind the scenes maneuvering. No surprises. Trust is the coin of the realm; efforts to circumvent it can wreck the process. Better to risk displeasure at the outset, than torpedo a hard-won agreement with new (and possibly damaging) information or last-minute proposals.
6. Keep it Confidential: This is the most challenging of the best practices. Once ALL the parties agree to go forward with the process, it helps if they confine their remarks to the work at hand and keep the media at bay. Once one party leaks, the entire process is in jeopardy because others will likely follow suit.
Applying these precepts could aid the President fulfill his promises to ALL Americans. They can also assure Americans that Congress is still capable of legislating. And they will replace deadlock with deeds.