During my recent time at huffingtonpost.com
and at CNN covering the 2008 US elections, I
wondered how it would be possible for Barack
Obama and the Congressional Democrats to keep
their promises on the economy, on healthcare,
on energy and on social issues, while simultaneously
reforming the process by which those and other
things would get done. Right now, in fact, that
reform process is the most important element
of Washington for business to understand.
In the midst of all the legislative activity – and let’s not forget the commitment to overhaul the regulatory structure of the financial system – corporations and issue groups will be operating in an advocacy arena that is undergoing significant change. By virtue of technology (democratization of news and information) and the mandate for change and reform provided by the election result, transparency and accountability in Washington are on the rise. Expectations are high for the elected representatives to work together to make significant progress on big challenges. Some businesses are already adapting to this new environment:
The major health insurance companies, through their Washington trade association, endorsed “must carry” provisions forbidding them from refusing to cover individuals with poor medical histories.
The CEO of ExxonMobil endorsed a carbon emissions tax.
Citigroup separated from the rest of the banking industry to support legislation allowing bankruptcy judges to unilaterally change the terms of mortgages.
Why are these businesses rushing to support legislation that seems, on the surface, to run counter to their own interests and publicly stated positions? The answer is that they have recognized the realities of the new order and have decided that shaping policy outcomes is preferable to being shaped by them.