John C. Goodman

Democrats seem to have more "street smarts" than Republicans when it comes to grass roots politics.

In 1983, both parties agreed to cut Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age and adopting other reforms. How did they explain that change to voters in the next election? Republicans typically told voters they had to "pare back the program to something we could afford." Democrats typically said they had "saved Social Security."

We are seeing a repeat of that exercise, now that both parties agree that entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) is completely out of hand.

The Republican message to voters is: we have to suck it in, tighten our belt, make do with less. I’ll bet that most Democrats will find a way to argue that they’re doing the beneficiaries a favor, no matter what spending cuts they agree to.

Basically, the Republican message tends to be: eat your spinach. The Democratic message tends to be: we may serve you spinach, but we’ll tell you it’s cherry pie.

Why is it important to know these things? Because we absolutely have to do something about entitlement spending — especially health care spending. And for that to work, I believe we need the natural skills of both political parties. From Republicans, we need the reform ideas. From Democrats we need to be able to shape the reforms and sell then in a way that makes them palatable.

I have a lot of respect for anybody in public life who takes on the thankless task of proposing ways to control Medicare spending. First there was Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the president’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Then there was Paul Ryan and Alice Rivlin, the House Republican and the Democrat who once directed the Congressional Budget Office. Then, there was the Ryan House Republican budget proposal. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CN) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) have a proposal. And word has it that there are many other look-alike proposals being conjured up by members of Congress in both parties.

John C. Goodman

John C. Goodman is President of the Goodman Institute and Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute. His books include the widely acclaimed A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America and the award-winning Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts.”