There are three political parties in Sacramento: Democrats, Republicans and the Post-Partisans. The Democratic Party holds large majorities in both houses of the legislature. The Republican Party has enough votes in both houses to block anything requiring a two-thirds majority vote. The Post-Partisan Party is far smaller than either. In fact, it has only one member: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of course, the fact that Mr. Schwarzenegger is also Governor Schwarzenegger gives the PPP a fair bit of clout. In the highly partisan environment that surrounds the state capital, however, it’s tough being a party of one.
The Governor put forward his health care reform plan earlier this week. There were some significant changes from what he proposed in January. The Governor and his staff were clearly listening to a lot of interested parties. Whatever one might think of the specifics, the Administration deserves credit for trying to find a compromise which all political parties could, and arguably should, support — at least in principal.
(Two things: Yes, I know the Governor is really a Republican, but bear with me for now. And personally, I have several serious problems with the Governor’s proposal, which I’ve described elsewhere. Now, back to our regularly scheduled post).
Yet he’s having a tough time finding anyonein the State Capital who agrees with him. Consider: the Governor’s proposal actually achieves universal coverage, which Democrats strongly support. It doesn’t achieve this goal by creating a government-run health care system, but at the end of the day, everyone would have health care coverage. The Governor even expanded subsidies to folks the Democratic health care reform legislation, Assembly Bil 8 (which the Governor officially vetoed yesterday), left behind. One might think the Democrats would applaud the Governor for this. They might applaud his call for expanding state health care programs to cover more low-income residents, for calling for insurance reforms similar to what was in AB 8, and for subsidizing premiums for a large part of the middle class in the state. One might expect this, but one would be disappointed.
The Democrats and their allies in Labor are hammering the plan for failing to subsidize residents with households of $100,000 (for a family of four). Having teased the Governor in the past for failing to put his reform plan in legislative form, they now complain it took so long. Democrats, hurried passage of their own bill through the Legislature on the last day of the regular session are now saying that health care reform is too complicated to rush. “Taking a few extra weeks is the responsible thing to do,” says Assemblyman Hector De La Torre according to the Sacramento Bee. Assemblyman De La Torre, who chairs the Assembly Rules Committee, is right. Yet that wasn’t what we were hearing a month ago.
Meanwhile the Governor has embraced some of the ideas put forward by Republicans, especially the idea of encouraging use of community-based health clinics. He is also standing firm against a 7.5 percent payroll fee on business, instead suggesting a four percent tax on business. Yet the rush of Republican lawmakers seeking to carry the Governor’s proposal is, well, there is no rush. Not one GOP lawmaker wants to be associated with the proposal.
So the Governor is learning just how difficult it can be to be a party of one. He’s getting knocks from the left and the right. He has no allies on this issue, at least among Legislators. There’s no party loyalty he can fall back on as he doesn’t share party affiliation with anyone else in Sacramento. In the immortal words of Three Dog Night (actually Harry Nilsson), “one is the loneliest number.”
The upshot is that the chances for health care reform this year are small and shrinking. The Associated Press reports Speaker Fabian Nunez as saying he still has hope of reaching a compromise on health care reform with the Governor. Then the Speaker goes on to say, “Are we far apart? … Yeah. I think we’re a bit apart.” Meanwhile the Sacramento Bee reports Speaker Nunez as declairing, “… where we end up on health care will look a lot like AB 8 – particularly on affordability, fair participation from employers and keeping the costs of presciption drugs down.” I don’t want to read too much into a couple of simple statements. However, given the fact that the Speaker’s allies in Labor and the Legislature are ripping the Governor’s program, the hardening of his own public position, and the change in tenor from Mr. Nunez’s previous statements, it may be that “a bit apart” is a gap too wide to bridge.
While regrettable, this isn’t a bad thing, so long as the effort to craft health care reform legislation continues. After all, the important thing is to get health care reform right. If it can’t be done before the Legislature convenes in January, as Assemblyman De La Torre suggests, so be it. However, it would be a shame for the special session to turn into a forum for partisan bickering instead of a time when all three parties can seek out common ground and attempt to develop a compromise which improves on what each is currently proposing.
Either that or Governor Schwarzenegger really needs to start recruiting more members into the PPP.