Is Schwarzenegger Backed into a Corner?

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has consistently stated his desire to enact “comprehensive” health care reform this year. With the Legislature scheduled to adjourn in mid-September, that gives him about two months to deliver — barring his calling for a special session.

His problem is, however, that while he offered a vision of comprehensive reform, there’s no legislation fulfilling his goals. Instead, Speaker Fabian Nunez and President Pro Temp Don Perata have conjured up AB 8. While failing to deliver comprehensive health care reform it is a sure recipe for driving up health insurance costs, permitting escalating health care costs to continue to, well, escalate, and throwing a devastating monkey wrench into the current health care coverage system without offering workable alternatives. In other words it’s a pastiche of reforms which, taken separately are dangerous but taken together are truly disastrous.

AB 8 is not the kind of bill Governor Schwarzenegger was describing when he unveiled his own health care plan. Signing it would be at best embarrassment and at worst would tarnish his image for a long time to come.

Yet, there are rumblings that the Governor may have no choice but to sign AB 8 if it’s passed by the Legislature — passage which would come solely on Democratic votes. The reason he might see no alternative but to sign AB 8 is because of the high expectations his administration has set. Having put California in the forefront of Workers Compensation reform, fighting green house gases and the like, Governor Schwarzenegger has vowed to do the same with health care reform. Some of his staff are rumored to be admitting that, as a result, he’ll sign any bill the Legislature sends him.

 And they know it. Senator Perata was recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal in this regard, saying, “If something lands on his desk, how do you explain not signing it?”

In an earlier post I suggested Senator Perata’s and Speaker Nunez’s bill was designed as a Frankenstein’s monster to give themselves plenty of negotiating room. Now I’m not so sure. Since the Governor isn’t expected to deliver a single Republican vote in the Legislature and is perceived as needing to sign anything that comes his way, the Democrats have little incentive to move away from a bill which appeals to many of their core constituents.

In the past, Governor Schwarzenegger has shown himself to be an adroit politicians, often outmaneuvering experienced legislators. On health care reform, however, the Governor may have backed himself into a corner from which even he will have difficulty escaping. And if that’s the case, he will not only blemish his own legacy, but he will have done serious harm to the state.