Health Care Reform Bill Moves Forward, Compromise (Apparently) Doesn’t.

The Assembly Health Committee today passed ABX1-1 (Nunez), the Democratic Leadership’s health care reform plan, along to the Assembly Appropriation Committee while holding back the Republican reform package, ABX1-8 (Villines). It took nearly three hours and 60 witnesses to get to this preordained destination, but they got there.

That’s what happened legislatively, but politically there was lot more going on. For example:

1. While Speaker Fabian Nunez, the lead author of ABX1-1, committed to several changes to the bill, none seemed aimed at narrowing the gap with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Instead they focused on concerns of his fellow Democrats, some technical issues, and even a broadly supported provision that was inadvertently left out of the bill. If progress towards a compromise with the Governor was moving forward, I would have expected to see more substantial changes.

2. The Governor sent a spokesperson from the Department of Health and Human Services to testify on the bills, not the Agency Secretary, Kim Belshe. The spokesperson spoke highly of the hard work and leadership shown by the Democratic Leadership. She praised some of the provisions in ABX1-1 that brought it closer to the Governor’s position than previous Democratic bills. Then she listed several concerns the Administration had with the bill, chief among them the broad exemption it contains from the requirement that all California residents have health care coverage. What was not given was a progress report on negotiations. Nor any enthusiastic statement that the parties were making terrific progress. Instead it sounded like substantial, difficult differences remain.

3. Speaker Nunez did succeed in rounding up most of his political supporters behind ABX1-1. This could not have been easy and is a testament to his political skill. While they expressed some reservations, it is clear that with some modest tweaking, Labor and it’s progressive allies will fully endorse the bill. However, they made very clear that they’d gone about as far as they could on some issues, especially the exemption from the requirement that all residents have health care coverage. This may indicate there’s not a lot more give in the Speaker’s position on an individual mandate. 

So, on one hand, the Governor’s spokesperson made clear the Administration considers the current exemption unacceptable. On the other hand, the Speaker’s allies made clear the current exemption was as far as they could go. What’s the sound of no hands clapping? I don’t know, but my guess is it doesn’t sound like victory.

Comprehensive health care reform is not dead (contrary to what I predict will be the tone of most news articles tomorrow). The political gain to the Governor and the Democratic Leadership from reaching a deal is enough to keep things moving forward for weeks, if not months.

Yes, a health care reform bill moved forward today. However, I don’t think the chances of comprehensive health care reform did.