According to the Sacramento Bee, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is promising to veto Assembly Bill 8 (Nunez) if it “relies solely on charging employers to provide coverage (“Governor threatns veto of Democratic health plan”). In a meeting with the Bee’s editorial board, the Governor is quoted in an article posted on www.sacbee.com today as saying, “…. if anyone over there [the Legislature] thinks that I will sign a bill that comes down to me that has only employer mandate, they shouldn’t …. I won’t sign it.”
The Governor may also be saying he will veto AB 8 if it doesn’t require all residents to obtain health care coverage (sometimes referred to as an “individual mandate”), a provision AB 8 lacks. This is at least the implication in his statement that if AB 8 is passed as is, “… we will never have a chance again to go back and cover the rest.”
This development is great news for those of us who believes AB 8 is too flawed to be rushed through before the Legislature adjourns for the year on September 14th. Amending the bill before adjournment to meet the Governor’s cocnerns will be extremely challenging. It could be done, bit it would be a Herculean task. This means there will be more time to try to fix the bill’s many problems.
What else does the Governor’s veto threat mean?
It mostly likely signifies that the Governor and Legislative Leaders are now in deeply engaged in negotiations over health care reform and the gloves are now off. By publicly locking himself into his demand for broadly spreading the burden of reform and an individual mandate, Governor Schwarzenegger puts heavy pressure on Speaker Nunez and Senator Perata to concede on these points. (As noted in an earlier post , the Governor has used the press to strengthen his negotiations before, most impressively during the Workers Compensation reform effort).
Or it could mean the Governor is providing the Legislative Leaders political cover so they can be more flexible in negotiations. Many of those supporting AB 8 are adamantly opposed to proposals such as an individual mandate. Now Speaker Nunez and Senator Perata can go to their backers, honestly claim they fought the good fight, but ruefully admit it’s time to accept the mandate or give up on any reform at all.
Or the Governor could be laying the groundwork for calling a Special Session of the Legislature, something he told John Myers, KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief, was a real possibility. In this scenario, the Legislative Leadership pushes through AB 8 (which makes their supporters happy) and probably SB 840, too. The Governor gets to veto one as too extreme and the other as inadequate, then call the Legislature back to Sacramento to fix this incredible problem (which reinforces his image as an problem-solving leader). This win-win situation might also provide the time necessary to fix the flaws in AB 8 and in the Governor’s proposal. Assuming, of course, they’ll listen to and accept outside input.
Or his statements could be seen as the start of the 2008 ballot battles. In the article, the Governor mentions his willingness to go the initiative route to resolve the issue (another echo of his Workers Compensation reform tactics). Senator Sheila Khuel has threatened to do the same with her single payer proposal. And the Chamber of Commerce is rumored to be developing it’s own ballot proposal on health care reform.
So what should we make of all this?
The Governor’s threatened veto is an important event and a hopeful development. It may provide the opening needed to help Sacramento enact meaningful, effective and responsible health care reform. It needs to be viewed, however, as one movement in a very long and complicated dance. Now is not the time to declare victory and go home.