Monday, February 22, 2010

The Healthcare-Deficit Connection

Summary: Explaining the real impact of healthcare reform on our deficits to the American voter.

Hale “Bonddad” Stewart had a good post at over the weekend exploring the details of the federal budget. It clearly spelled out one factor of government spending that many of us have known about for a long time: the connection between our country’s rapidly inflating healthcare costs and the growing national debt.

As he maps out, mandatory spending (on programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans Affairs services) has been steadily increasing over the past forty years while discretionary spending (for things such as national defense, agriculture subsidies, and a wide variety of other government programs) has been steadily decreasing in that time.

I should note that I would generally consider interest on the national debt as mandatory spending, but Stewart does not.

Now, among the mandatory spending programs - which are not covered by PAYGO rules in the House or Senate the same way that discretionary spending is - Social Security expenditures have actually gone down a bit since 1970, while Medicare and Medicaid expenditures are (for the most part) rising fast.

Now Republicans like to trash healthcare reform as something that will increase our debt. In fact, it is quite clear that without healthcare reform, our debt will continue to rise. In fact, it would not be wrong to assume that a balanced budget is impossible without controlling healthcare costs.

Democrats can do themselves a world of good by driving this point home. It needs to be a message that is consistent and constant in order for voters to believe it. If they do, we can kill two birds with one stone: justifying our support for healthcare reform, and letting voters know we are the party of fiscal responsibility.

That’s not to say it will be easy, especially in the age of sound-bite attention spans. The typical voter will struggle to understand the connection between these two issues - after all, there will be new government spending associated with healthcare reform, and the GOP has done a pretty good job characterizing government as incapable of saving money.

Perhaps we can start where Activate left us off last week with the Three Degrees of Separation.

Explaining the connection between healthcare reform and deficit reduction to volunteers shouldn’t be too difficult. Political activists are well engaged and equipped with the ability to see the relationship.

If they explain to fellow voters in their sphere of influence the benefits of healthcare reform on the federal budget, a basic level of understanding will trickle down. From there, they can talk to voters in their spheres of influence about this connection. This second degree of separation probably won’t understand the argument, but at least they’ll know of it.

Assuming your campaign has a volunteer base of at least 1,000 supporters (it will obviously depend on the size of your district) the message could theoretically reach as many as one million voters.

Tell me that wouldn’t help in 2010!

(By the way, the guys at Activate have a great new post up today about healthcare reform on their blog, The New Paradigm in Politics)

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