The Republican Party is in danger of another big loss. This time, they could lose the House of Representatives, giving the Democrats control of both chambers as well as the White House.
The Democratic Party cannot possibly achieve this victory on its own. We are experiencing the slowest recovery in our nation’s history. Economic growth is tepid. The job numbers are awful. Millions of people are out of work precisely because of the policies of the Obama administration.
Ask any employer, any banker, any investor — regardless of party affiliation — and you are likely to hear the same stories. ObamaCare is making companies reluctant to hire. Dodd/Frank financial reform is making banks reluctant to lend. President Obama’s continuing threat to raise taxes is making investors reluctant to invest. Labor policy and environmental regulations are compounding these negative factors.
Plus, Democrats have another big problem: ObamaCare will take $716 billion out of Medicare over the next 10 years and spend it on health insurance for the non-elderly. As senior citizens have increasing difficulty finding doctors who will accept them and as they face increasingly lengthy waits for their care, everyone in Congress will feel their wrath.
The next election, therefore, should be an easy win for the GOP. But so should have the last one. Democrats can only win if the Republicans cooperate in allowing them to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
How might Republicans cooperate in their own demise? By engaging in no-win battles over the budget and allowing Democrats to seize a public relations victory in the process.
At the end of this month, the automatic spending cuts (budget sequester) kicks in. At the end of next month there will be a close-down-the-government (continuing resolution) moment. Then there will be a debt ceiling standoff — probably in May. Each of these episodes is fraught with danger for the GOP. To make matters worse, House Republicans seem to have a suicidal desire to keep passing budgets that have no chance of passage, but can be easily demagogued by the other side.
Let’s get three basic truths out on the table: (1) We have a long-term entitlement spending crisis, under which promises we have made far outstretch any foreseeable revenues; however, (2) reform is virtually impossible unless both parties cooperate; and (3) if one party tries to push through a reform on a totally partisan basis that party is likely to lose the next time voters get to vote.
Reform of major institutions almost always creates more visible losers than winners in the short run. An example is ObamaCare. The president and the Democrats in Congress foolishly pushed the measure through without a single Republican vote. The upshot: Democrats got crushed in the 2010 elections. The Republicans not only took the House of Representatives, they won huge down ballot races all over the country.
The Democrats did walk away with a consolation prize, however. They got the health reform they wanted. Republicans are poised to make a similar mistake. But, unlike their opponents, they will walk away completely empty handed.
Yes we do have a problem of continuing and unsustainable federal deficit spending. But the Republicans in Congress cannot force the Democrats to reform Social Security. They cannot force the Democrats to reform Medicare. Or Medicaid. Or the disabilities program. Or any other major social insurance program.
If they try, President Obama will claim he is trying to protect seniors against Republican attempts to destroy the institutions they depend upon. Republicans will be accused of trying to raise the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare, of tinkering with the payment formulas to lower benefits and of “privatization” — all highly unpopular reforms.
Democrats will also make another argument. They will accuse the Republicans of hurting the recovery by creating uncertainty. There is a lot of evidence that public policy uncertainty is a chief cause of our slow recovery. Further, the policies of the Obama administration are the main source of that uncertainty. But Democrats could turn the tables on that issue if Republicans engage in highly visible budget battles with the president.
So what should Republicans do?
First, remind voters at every turn that we have a long-term entitlement spending crisis and that the Obama administration has contributed to that crisis — primarily by creating an entitlement benefit for the nonelderly that is not paid for in any realistic way.
Second, signal a willingness to negotiate with the president and with Democrats in Congress to reform the entitlement programs that almost everyone agrees must be reformed.
Third, avoid the appearance of trying to force the White House to reform Social Security and Medicare against the president’s wishes.
Finally, avoid voting for budgets that have no chance of passage and that imply deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
John C. Goodman is President of the Goodman Institute and a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute. He is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts.”