The San Jose Mercury News had an interesting editorial yesterday which took to task the Governor and the Legislature on their failure to deliver on health care reform “two weeks into Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s special session of the Legislature.” Some of what they had to say strikes me as greatly unfair. Lawmakers are seeking public input on proposals. If that takes some time so be it. Better the public should be heard than not, a sentiment I’m sure the Mercury News would agree with.
It was editorial’s criticism of Republican Legislators that got me thinking, however. As the Mercury News observes, the likely output of the special session, if there is any, will be legislation creating the framework for a new heatlh care system tied to a November 2008 initiative to finance and implement the reforms. The reason is that without Republican votes, there is no way the Governor and the Democratic Leadership can gain the two-thirds vote necessary to pass a spending bill. Yes, as the Mercury News notes, “… instead of taking advantage of a prime opportunity to negotiate from strength, Republicans are remaining on the sidelines ….”
And he’s right. Republican legislators have been scarcely heard from on health care reform of late. There have been some op-ed pieces published in newspapers around the state (many of them quite good), but they’re clearly not a part of the negotiations. Earlier in the year the Republican caucuses presented their reform packages. Several of their ideas were innovative and would definitely improve the lives of many Californians, which is, after all, the goal here. The Democrats never held hearings on those bills and now the Republicans are “on the sidelines.”
Which makes me wonder: why? Is it their choice to leave the room or were they escorted out? (This being a Democratic leadership who punishes moderates in their own caucus by locking them out of their offices for crime of daring to be, well, moderate, perhaps “kicked” would be the more appropriate verb than “escorted.”). In a strange way it’s a bit of both. Republicans are so locked into a “no new taxes” mindset that they tie their hands on public policy. Since the Democrats are looking at expensive changes, why should they tolerate anyone at the table who can’t support the results under any circumstance? As a result, the only folks around to negotiate a compromise are the Democratic Legislative Leadership and the post-partisan Governor — or at least their staffs. The Republicans are no where near, without any influence.
Could they have a voice in the reform debate? It depends, I suppose, on how pure they want — or need — to be. If no new revenue sources are acceptable then I guess there’s nothing more for them to say. But maybe if they held out the possibility that if the health care reform package was a net win for the state’s economy and financial well-being (far from a sure thing, but definitely possible) that they could support it, perhaps their voice would be part of the debate. And that would be a good thing. Every voice needs to be heard, conservatives as well as liberals (and post-partisans, too).
For example, when I was on the Santa Monica City Council there were two factions — the liberals and the moderates (this being Santa Monica even the conservatives were moderate) — with three members each (and they were formal members of their factions, running as slates and all). The seventh member was me who was independent of both coalitions. The best success I had was when I used my influence as a swing vote to force the two sides to reach a compromise. The result wasn’t necessarily what I would have come up with on my own, but it was something a broad spectrum of the city could get behind.
The same dynamic could happen with health care reform. It is a shame, however, that Republican have backed themselves so deeply into a no-tax corner that they deny themselves — and the people of California — the benefit of their ideas, influence and participation.