Harold Ford’s Play Against Obama Health Care Bill

By Matt Loffman

Jan 13, 2010 3:53pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: As Harold Ford Jr. contemplates a Senate run in New York State, he’s taking a provocative tack in the Democratic primary: He’s coming out against President Obama’s health care plan, as currently written. Expanding on an interview he gave to The New York Times, Ford sent identical letters today to New York’s senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, asking them to commit to voting against the health care bill if it imposes “increased financial burdens on New Yorkers.” “The health reform bill that you voted to pass would add at least $1 billion a year in new costs to New Yorkers,” Ford writes. “In light of the state's $14 billion budget deficit and the city's projected $5.5 billion budget deficit, I ask you to protect hard-working New Yorkers from paying the additional fees and taxes that the health bill as currently proposed would surely impose on us.” The move aligns Ford more closely with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., and Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., who have complained that the health care bill as passed by the Senate would saddle states with vast new costs as part of a Medicaid expansion. Ford, a former House member from Tennessee, is mulling a primary challenge against Gillibrand, who was appointed by Paterson to fill Hillary Clinton’s old Senate seat. The Obama White House and Gov. Paterson are backing Gillibrand, and Bloomberg has told Senate leadership that he would not personally help Ford if he challenges Gillibrand, according to the New York Post. Underscoring his anti-Washington message, Ford’s letter makes an oblique reference to the now-infamous “Cornhusker Kickback,” where Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson extracted a special deal in the Senate bill to protect his state from the extra Medicaid costs — a deal that other lawmakers would love for their own states. Writes Ford: “Moreover, the reported negotiations by other senators to protect their home states from increased Medicaid costs is proof that more can be done on behalf of the 19 million New Yorkers you represent.  … So I'm asking both of you to make a public commitment to vote against any health care legislation that imposes increased financial burdens on New Yorkers.” The letter concludes: “I served in Congress and am aware how political pressure can mount to vote for legislation. I call on both of you to show courage and independence and withhold a yes vote on health care until the interests of New York families are satisfied.” Schumer’s office declined to comment, and Gillibrand’s office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

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