September 5, 2009

A Zealot's Confidence, Not an Advisor's Circumspection

Justin Katz

Since the pre-Anchor Rising days of Dust in the Light, I've found it to be among the great puzzles of Rhode Island media that somebody is actually willing to pay Froma Harrop a living wage to write political opinion pieces. The young writer might be tempted to find encouragement in the apparent height of the bar, but he or she should not fail to recall that the rules vary by ideology, among other things.

With the escalation of the healthcare debate, Harrop has been helpfully reminding me why it was that I gradually came to find my time better spent elsewise than trying to sort through her sentences in search of something that might profitably be raised in discussion. I recently noted her apparent inability to understand why there's any left-right controversy over the currently floating healtcare "reforms" at all. In a subsequent offering, Harrop seems immune to suspicions of risk; that is, the question of whether the proposed regime will work never enters her argument:

On Nov. 2, 2010, voters will not be asking, "What's in it for me?" They'll already know.

And consider how voters would feel if there were well-designed health reform. The uninsured would be delighted, of course. But that newfound sense of security would have spread to Americans covered through a workplace: A lost job would no longer leave their families vulnerable in a medical crisis.

Older people would see that nothing they care about in Medicare has changed. They might even find themselves enjoying new benefits included in current legislation: a gradual phasing-out of the drug benefit's "doughnut hole" and no co-payments or deductibles for colonoscopies and other preventive-care screenings.

Employers might already be observing their health-insurance premiums moderating, thanks to more efficient delivery of care. And their workers might have begun enjoying higher paychecks as the boss started to pass on those savings.

Considering that the legislation piles mandate upon unwise regulation, rather than streamlining the healthcare system and aligning incentives appropriately between user and funder, I'd say that the more likely outcome is that bosses will have begun pushing their employees onto a public option and pocketing most of the savings for themselves (perhaps to compensate for increased expenses resulting from cap 'n' trade). But the point, here, is Harrop's total lack of fear that Congress's passing anything could have a worse outcome for the country than its passing nothing. By the next election, she writes, "America will have fixed the health-care mess or it will not have," depending in binary fashion on whether the Democrats have passed a bill. The jaw-dropping insinuation is that the Democrats' style of "fixing" the economy is as sure a fix as plugging a damaged tire.

If that legislation is so masterful, I wonder, why delay various provisions and hide them from view? Why backload the costs to hit after the next presidential election? I'm inclined to see it as ignorance, rather than deceit, that guides Harrop away from the fact that Republicans hardly have to make things up to "spook" voters about the potential to lose their current healthcare. One need only read the bill, which explicitly kills grandfathered policies after five years of forced attrition.

The sentence that doesn't enter Harrop's rhetoric, though it should is: Of course, all this requires that Democrats keep their tendencies toward big-government excesses in check and actually contrive a "reform" that will work. She has an unbounded faith in liberal government agents pushing forward an increase in government control.

Far be it from me to offer the Democrats political advice, but a sense of fair play compels me to suggest that, wherever they ultimately seek guidance, Froma Harrop's columns would be a sweet-tasting laxative formulated to kick into effect at precisely the wrong moment.

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Your one fatal flaw on this subject is your apparent presumption that people actually read Harrop's stuff.

Posted by: George Elbow at September 6, 2009 7:40 PM
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