IF the Clinton administration is counting on health-care reform to cut federal deficits in coming years, says former Democratic presidential candidate and deficit hawk Paul Tsongas, it is not facing reality.
"There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the best you can hope for is that the cost of health care will track the cost of living," Mr. Tsongas told a Monitor breakfast yesterday.
The White House has a plan for cutting $500 billion from potential budget deficits over the next five years, but it projects deficits to rise again after that.
But administration officials have noted that health-care reform will offer future budget savings. The cost of health care is increasing at many times the general rate of inflation and is currently the largest single driver of federal budget costs.
Tsongas says that the best the administration can hope for is to neutralize health costs. He sees "no massive savings out there."
Tsongas estimates that if the White House goes public with its health-care plan in September, it can pass by December. But if not, then reform might have to wait until after 1996.
The gentle-spoken Tsongas is a fairly stinging critic of both Republican and Democratic deficit politics: The no-taxes Republican approach is "intellectually dishonest." And Democrats refusing to create jobs by cutting capital-gains taxes "want to keep the class warfare issue going."
His Concord Coalition will produce a deficit-cutting plan this fall in an attempt to "change the targets." Instead of saving $500 billion over five years, he says, Washington needs to pursue a zero-deficit level by the year 2000.
"The only generationally moral budget is a zero-deficit budget," he says.