Harold Ford Shows the Fiscal Foolishness Of Wannabe Centrists

Today, Harold Ford Jr., Democratic Leadership Council president, Morning Joe pundit, and now early applicant for the Martha Coakley Award For Spectacular Senatorial Flameouts, laid out his 2010 vision in the New York Times oped page.

Much of it is boilerplate incoherent corporate-friendly wannabe centrism: hugging "spending cuts" for "deficit reduction" while simultaneously praising tax cuts for business.

...we should pass a more focused health reform bill that restructures current health care costs before spending more, prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, enacts responsible reform on malpractice suits and extends health coverage to all children.

Look at that post-partisan Ford go! Grabbing ideas from the left and right. He loves kids! He loves capping damages to malpractice victims!

But anyone who actually knows just the basics of health care reform will see the blatant contradiction in his proposals.

While Ford frames limiting his health care ideas as a way to save money, limiting reform would actually do the opposite.

Requiring insurance companies to cover more people [with pre-existing conditions], for example, would likely push up premiums unless more healthy people are required to buy insurance. Such a mandate could create problems unless the government provides subsidies to help people buy insurance. And that, in turn, requires new taxes or cuts to Medicare or other popular federal programs, which are always controversial.

The bills pending in Congress recognized those connections. That's why they are comprehensive. That's why they would reduce the deficit.

The only thing Ford proposes that would offer a shred of cost savings is malpractice reform. And it is just a shred.

The CBO projected a "typical package of tort reform" would produce about $5 billion in savings a year. As health care costs are $2 trillion a year and rising, that's literally meaningless. Prof. Tom Baker, author of The Medical Malpractice Myth, made it plain to the NYT last year: "We have a more than a $2 trillion health care system. That puts litigation costs and malpractice insurance at 1 to 1.5 percent of total medical costs. That's a rounding error. Liability isn't even the tail on the cost dog. It's the hair on the end of the tail."

In other words, the "liberal" bill would responsibly reduce the deficit. The "centrist" vision Ford lays out would fail to reform health care and restrain costs, which would increase the deficit.

That's what you get when you put on your "centrist" goggles, chase a smattering of ideas that poll well in isolation, but neglect to do the responsible work of crafting coherent policy.

Originally posted at OurFuture.org