Can The Troika Pull a Rabbit Out of the Committee’s Hat?

Anyone have any idea how Governor Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and President Pro Tem Don Perata are going to pull this rabbit out of their hat?

The Senate Health Committee seems poised to defeat their troika’s health care reform package, Assembly Bill X1-1. The math is pretty straightforward:

There are seven Democrats and four Republicans on the committee. Two of the Democrats have announced their opposition to the bill and none of the Republicans have ever said anything indicating they’re supporting the bill. That means the bill fails five-to-six. And that assumes none of the other Democrats decides to vote against the bill.

Seems to me there’s only three ways to turn this around:

1. Stack the committee. It’s been done before. Replace a no vote with a yes-Senator. But Senator Perata told the San Jose Mercury News he won’t do this.

2. Get a Yes vote from one of the Democrats currently committed to voting No. Committee Chair Shiela Kuehl or Senator Leland Yee have both come out against the bill. In his opening statement to the committee, Senator Perata took a none too subtle swipe at Senator Yee in his prepared statement before the start of the Health Committee hearing. “I am a little dismayed that some committee members have seen fit, or maybe one committee member, is seeing fit to pre-judge the LAO’s report without reading it. Be that as it may, I guess we all approach our work in a different manner.” As means of persuading someone to change their minds on one of the most public and publicized decisions of their political career, this approach leaves something to be desired.

More likely is that Senator Perata, the Governor and Speaker will seek a courtesy vote from one of the Democrats. Their argument could be: 1) you’ll get to vote no on the floor of the Senate; 2) we’ll owe you big time; 3) you’ll keep your office; and 4) eventually the voters will decide if they like this health care reform — why would you stand in the way of letting the people decide? 

This last argument might — emphasis on the word “might” — work. ABX1-1 is entirely dependent on a funding measure passing on the November 2008 ballot. If the initiative fails, the bill never gets implemented. So moving the bill forward can be seen as simply giving the people a chance to make the final determination. Will either Senator Kuehl or Yee buy into this? That’s a big unknown.

3. Get a Republican to vote Yes. It’s worth a try. However, the most likely GOP Senator to buck the party is Senator Abel Maldonado. He was, after all, the only Republican Senator to support the 2007-08 budget during the 52-day standoff.

However, according to someone who was there, at a meeting with constituents on Friday, Senator Maldonado expressed concern about committing the state to substantial new expenses before the state’s $14 billion deficit is fixed. As the observer described it, Senator Maldonado explained that everything he knows from his own business experience and his commitment to being a responsible elected official points to a “No” vote on Monday.

OK, there’s a glimmer of a chance that the troika can find a courtesy vote. Or they can convince Senator Maldonado to listen to their financial analysis and not that of the non-partisan and highly respected Legislative Analyst. But it’s a long shot.

Nonetheless, some Sacramento insiders, even some opposed to the bill, are convinced they’ll pull it off. The Governor, Speaker and Senate Leader simply have too much invested in ABX1-1 to let it fail this close to the finish line.

I can’t figure out how they could do it. But if any of you have a guess — or better yet, inside information — please share with the class.

ABX1-1 Coming Up Short in Senate Health Committee

Senator Leland Yee has apparently moved from the “undecided” to the “oppose” column concerning Assembly Bill X1-1, the health care reform package being pushed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. The bill will be heard by the Senate Health Committee tomorrow in what promises to be a long, thorough and, for the legislation’s supporters, bruising session.

As I posted on January 20th, Senator Yee had expressed strong concerns over the weekend about the state’s ability to afford ABX1-1. Today the Sacramento Bee’s CapitolAlert web site reports an aide to the San Francisco State Senator is confirming he will be vote no on the bill.

It takes six votes to pass a measure through the Senate Health Committee. With its four Republicans members and Democratic Chair, Senator Shiela Kuehl, already inclined to oppose the legislation, ABX1-1 appear to be headed to defeat tomorrow.

But a lot can still happen between now and then. As I speculated in the earlier post, Senator Kuehl could give the bill a “courtesey vote,” to keep it moving, even while pledging to vote “no” on the legislation when it reaches the full Senate. When asked if she’d consider such a gesture, she replied she “can’t answer that,” according to CapitolAlert.

Senator President Pro Tem Perata, who previously expressed concerns similar to those of Senator Yee, but who now appears interested in moving ABX1-1 forward, could restructure the Committee. He’s proven himself capable of such a move in the past, although its rare for a committee’s membership to be shuffled over just one bill. And whether he cares enough about the fate of the legislation to make such a move is questionable.

Anothe scenario: the CapitolAlert post speculates that one of the Republican Senators might vote for ABX1-1. They identify Senator Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria as the most likely suspect. The odds of this are slim, however. Senator Maldonado, although having shown a willingness to buck the party line, has indicated no enthusiasm for ABX1-1 or any similar health care reform packages.

Given normal circumstances, it would appear ABX1-1 will be defeated in the Senate Health Committe tomorrow. But, these are not normal circumstances.

ABX1-1 represents more than a year of negotiations between the legislative leaders and Governor Schwarzenegger. They’re not giving up yet. And there’s an election in  California just two weeks from today. One of the ballot measures, Proposition 93, will determine if the state’s term limits law is changed in a manner which enables Speaker Nunez and Senator Perata to hold onto their powerful posts. Do they really want to kill health care reform so close to that vote?

A lot can happen between now and the Committee’s vote tomorrow evening. And, given this is California and the topic is health care reform, most likely, a lot will happen.

ABX1-1 Could Fail to Pass Senate Health Committee

The Governor wants the bill passed. The Assembly Speaker wants the bill passed. The Senate President Pro Tem may want the bill passed — or not, it’s hard to tell. Anyway, several powerful unions want the bill passed. So do some business groups and consumer groups. So why is Assembly Bill X1-1, California’s comprehensive health care reform package in danger of failing to make it past its first committee hearing?

On January 23rd, the Senate Health Committee is expected to dive deeply into ABX1-1. The hearing will start in the morning and is likely to go into the evening. (Here’s the anticipated agenda). But how thoroughly a bill is reviewed doesn’t always correlate with its viability.

What’s endangering ABX1-1 is the make-up of the Committee. There are seven Democrats and four Republicans on the Senate Health Committee. When it comes to ABX1-1, the four Republicans will certainly oppose it. That means supporters can only afford to lose one of the Democrats. Lose two and the bill fails.

There are at least two Democrats who could vote against the measure. The Committee Chair, Senator Sheila Kuehl, has been an outspoken critic of the compromise bill.  The legislature’s chief proponent of a single-payer health care system for California, Senator Kuehl voted against Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senator Perata’s previous health care reform bill, Assembly Bill 8. And most observers would be surprised to see her vote for that bill’s successor.

Another Democratic considering a “no” vote on ABX1-1 is Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco. The Associated Press, in a story posted on the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com web site, quotes Senator Yee as saying, “It’s rather difficult for me to vote for a health care plan that’s going to cost $14 billion at the same time I’m looking at cutting $14 billion” due to the fiscal crisis facing the state.

The non-partisan and highly regarded Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) is preparing a detailed report on the legislation’s impact on the state’s finances. Senator Yee will be relying heavily on this report in determining his vote. “I think all of us are trying to find something that’s going to be of help to the people of California and not in any of the out-years find that there are unintended consequences or that it’s going to shift the burden of costs to workers unfairly,” the Associated Press writer Steve Lawrence quotes Senator Yee as saying.

None of this means that ABX1-1 is doomed. Senator Kuehl could vote for it in Committee as a courtesy to the authors regardless of how she intends to vote on the bill when it reaches the Senate floor. The LAO report could show, as some believe it will, that the state’s financial situation would benefit from passage of ABX1-1, meaning Senator Yee could comfortably support the legislation. There’s numerous plausible scenarios that have the bill sailing through the Committee.

Then again, it’s easy to come up with scenarios that have ABX1-1 crashing in flames. It’s tough to tell how hard Senator Perata will be pushing to get the legislation through his chamber, so the pressure to pass the bill along may not be as strong in the Senate as it was in the Assembly. The LAO report could raise questions that make Senator Yee — and perhaps others — unable to support it.  Or the Committee’s thorough review of the bill could bring to light previously unknown structural or drafting problems with ABX1-1 that are severe enough to have the committee hold the bill over. This is, after all, the first real vetting this version of the legislation is receiving.

We won’t know until Wednesday evening. What’s surprising, at least to me, is that the outcome is in doubt at all. It’s actually an encouraging turn of events. After all, this is how the legislative process is supposed to work: lawmakers making up their minds based on public input, thorough analysis and their political beliefs.