The Edmond Sun

November 8, 2013

Where does the buck stop?

Phil Busey
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — Harry Truman made the phrase “The buck stops here” iconic during his presidency. He had a  desk plate with the saying displayed prominently. Unusual for a politician as president, he believed he was ultimately responsible for actions by his administration.

He made tough decisions regardless of political consequence. At the end of WWII he ordered the dropping of the atomic bombs to end the war and during the Korean War he fired an American hero and popular General, Douglas MacArthur.

He said the decisions were his alone. Where is that accountability today? Where are the Truman’s? Sadly, among our leaders in Washington, finger-pointing is the norm blaming each other without owning any decision. According to that logic nobody is responsible for anything. Their desk plates would read, “The buck doesn’t stop here.” Politics controls actions. This inhibits sorely needed leadership.

President Obama has repeatedly said the buck stops with him on the Affordable Healthcare Act and other issues. But no one seems able to tell him, or he hasn’t asked which buck. Now on most issues in controversy the White House says they didn’t know. There is no buck stopping here. Over the course of the year, with Benghazi, NSA, Syria, shutdown and this latest crisis, the president’s approval rating is down from a high of 54 percent to 42 percent. Congress fairs far worse at 17 percent approval.

 The rollout of Obamacare is an unmitigated disaster for the program and politically for the White House. This is the president’s signature legislation. People are in need of affordable healthcare.

But, who is in charge? After three and a half years the launch has been an embarrassment to the White House. The White House, The Secretary of Health and Human Services and three agencies worked on this.

But no coordination seemed to exist. No one in the administration has owned-up to responsibility for this catastrophe until Secretary Sebelius testified before a House committee. But falling on her sword, it appears late in the game. Didn’t the president or his closet advisors or agency heads know of the shortfalls? They should have.

If they did, they should have acted on the information. This indicates a major breakdown in oversight that is inexcusable. The White House has given Republicans more than enough reason to go after the program.

However, as for Congressional action, the House passed 42 bills to repeal the legislation yet none to try to amend or fix it. There have been hearings before Congress for three years on the Act. No hard questions were asked in these hearings and basically the agendas were focused on other matters basically driven by partisanship.

Heads need to roll and the president needs to be more engaged in making this right. Otherwise the program may suffer irreparable damage and fail altogether primarily because American people are losing confidence in it.

But they are also losing confidence in their government. This is the greater risk. In crisis management 101, the president would take the bull by the horns, hold people accountable, modify the program and look at reforms.

Politics cloud the issues.

Compare the response of the government to the situation with rollout to the private sector. Contractors say over $400 million of taxpayer dollars were spent on this failed launched website.

Secretary Sebelius says $176 million spent but still way too much with costs mounting to fix the system. No one will speak to the real cost.

Taxpayers are then like shareholders. Their investment is being wasted due to mismanagement. The board of any company and its shareholders would demand immediate action, accountability, and hold the highest officers responsible.

“The buck stops here” means you are responsible if you knew or should have known. No less. But in Washington, millions can be wasted and no one will pay a price except the American taxpayers.

Shame on Congress and the administration. Alone this year in the Obamacare launch and shutdown they wasted more money than they would ever admit then blame each other in political jockeying.

The travesty in government is that no one steps up. The shutdown and debt ceiling crisis cost the economy tens of billions, threatened the AAA credit rating of the U.S. and hurt Americans.

But no one owns that. It was a political stunt and that is the new name of the game. As citizens we should be outraged. The price is paid by the people for irresponsibility. We should demand much better in the strongest democracy in the world.

There is a real problem with leadership across the board. The president’s young team is astute at campaigning, not governing. Congress rates no better. Speak out with your vote and voice. The buck now stops with us.

PHIL BUSEY is chairman and CEO of The Busey Group of Companies in Oklahoma City.