Aging, health care & illegal immigrants: searching for a win-win

The political scene in the U.S. has become exceedingly polarized and unyielding.

At the start of discussion of the budget deficit, one Congressman remarked that there was no room for compromise. After all, as he put it, “Your principles are your principles.”

And this is the view on issues which require action, such as deficits and debt limits and government “entitlements” and health care and the overlap between them. Issues which the congressman and others were presumbly elected to address.

Of course, other people’s principles are their principles too. So refusal to consider compromise is the path to protracted, unproductive posturing and deadlock.

For many elected officials and members of the public, the matter of undocumented (or illegal) immigrants is a matter of Principle Upon Which There Shall Be No Compromise.

Two recent examples

In-state tuition at public colleges

Should a state allow residents who are illegal immigrants to pay far-less-expensive in-state tuition at its public colleges and universities? This matter has recently been subject to contentious debate in a number of states, including Maryland.

The state’s House of Delegates and Senate have passed legislation allowing illegal immigrants living in the state to pay in-state tuition, and Governor Martin O’Malley has said that he will sign the bill. However, as reported last week, several opponents of the legislation are trying to gather signatures to put a referendum on the matter on the ballot.

State-provided health care

Vermont has been developing legislation to move the state toward a single-payer health care system. The legislation establishes a private insurance exchange and sets up a board to review and approve designs for a publicly-financed health insurance program available to all its residents. Its passage would make Vermont the first state in the nation to have such a system.

A very controversial, last-minute change to the proposed legislation would have excluded illegal immigrants (mostly farm workers) from coverage. Human rights activists strongly opposed the change. Others vociferously questioned the principle as well as the cost of including illegal immigrants in the system.

The legislation has been passed in the House and the Senate and was to go to  Governor Peter Shumlin today for signature. Then the real work starts.

There are questions pertaining to the timetable in the federal Affordable Health Care Act for states to develop such plans (a waiver would be required) and questions which will come up in the course of developing a funding plan to be presented to the Vermont legislation by 2013.

Another option: looking for a win-win solution

It’s fascinating how intense opposition to granting certain rights to undocumented immigrants—regardless of their age or the need for the often back-breaking, low-paid farm work they may perform—is couched in terms of “principle.”

Wrong is wrong; illegal is illegal. What were those young illegal immigrants thinking when they allowed their parents to bring them them into this country?

The demographic imbalance argument

There’s another argument which doesn’t seem to have been raised much in the debate of these matters, namely, the demographic imbalance  argument. The problem isn’t that we have too many old people in this country, as has been suggested over and over again in the context of changes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It’s that we have too few people of working age.

Therefore, we can use all the people of working age we can get, and the more-educated they are, the better. The two statutes represent the very best in political compromise: a win-win solution. Our immigrants, including the illegal ones, continue to make an irreplaceable contribution and we provide the benefits that help make that possible.

What do you think? Can your principles keep you from doing the right thing? Does it make more sense to stick to a rigid punitive policy which ultimately hurts us all or to devise solutions which benefit us all?

photo by onemillion

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Madeleine Kolb 05/14/2011, 11:21 am

    It’s interesting that the Washington Post had an article a few days ago on this very point. The author interviewed William Ury–who wrote the book on negotiation, as you know–and others. The consensus was that both sides/both parties in the negotiation on dealing with the deficit were going about it all wrong.

    The idea of a win-win solution is very powerful, and you’re absolutely right that “It’s the grown-up way to solve problems.” Now all we need is some grown-ups.

  • Lynne Spreen 05/14/2011, 8:29 am

    When I was an HR exec in a union environment, both sides joined together to undergo training in interest-based bargaining (win-win). We learned to recognize the difference between a position (e.g. NO NEW TAXES) and an interest (e.g. FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY). If both sides recognize and at least pretend to respect each others’ interests, both sides can come up with ideas to satisfy the interest. So for example, we all work together on achieving fiscal responsibility, and NO NEW TAXES is just one of many ways we MIGHT choose to get there.
    It’s the grown-up way to solve problems.

  • Madeleine Kolb 05/10/2011, 7:31 pm

    “That’s what I think is wrong with a lot of our current political discourse. People get so caught up with what’s right, they don’t see that the result of their inflexibility can be not-kind. They also don’t see the advantage of being a little more flexible, as a form of respect, and as a means to get some flexibility from the other side as well.”

    I think you’re right. It seems to be related to the idea of zero tolerance for minor violations of school rules, for example, which can often be chalked up to immaturity rather than to deliberately thumbing one’s nose at authority. That kind of inflexibility can cause real harm. And being respectful makes a huge difference in the political discourse and in any other human interaction.

  • Sue T 05/10/2011, 4:39 pm

    When I was a graduate assistant in college, a student in my quiz section asked for relief about her 2-points-too-low grade. Don’t recall she would flunk, but it affected her grade point average which affected something else important. I was sure she should stick with the grade she earned like everyone else. But many years later, I think I should have come up with some way she could improve her grade. It was a basic course outside her major. Surely I could have found some way to give her a chance to improve in this not-so-important-to-her class. I didn’t have the experience, and wasn’t thinking about being creative, so it didn’t occur to me to try. Not kind.

    That’s what I think is wrong with a lot of our current political discourse. People get so caught up with what’s right, they don’t see that the result of their inflexibility can be not-kind. They also don’t see the advantage of being a little more flexible, as a form of respect, and as a means to get some flexibility from the other side as well.