September 1, 2010
Democrats Block California Single Payer Bill
By Don McCanne
Speaker John Perez of the California State Assembly, on the very last day of the legislative session, pulled SB 810, the single payer bill, from the Assembly floor.
This highly unusual move of pulling a bill that had cleared all legislative hurdles except for the final Assembly floor vote was to protect Democrats from having to cast a health care reform vote in a difficult political environment three months before the next election.
Democrats feared a backlash from those who are opposed to the recently enacted federal health care legislation should they vote for the bill, and they feared offending their progressive base should they vote against the bill. Since a veto by Gov. Schwarzenegger was a given, it was decided that it would be safer to avoid the political risks by simply pulling the bill.
But did they really avoid that risk? Are the single payer advocates expendable? Don't think so.
Fortunately, Senator Mark Leno is not to be deterred. He has vowed to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session which begins in January.
The Democrats are worried about their political base, but maybe that's not the framing we should be looking at. Perhaps the single payer advocates should be reassessing their own base instead.
Not all Democrats have been supportive of single payer, and several Republicans who are not part of the prevailing lock-step bloc do understand the benefits of the single payer model. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is proof that we can't rely on the Democrats to do the right thing. Most importantly, everyone understands the benefits of Medicare as a social insurance program (even if there is a fringe reactionary element that would emasculate it).
The Tea Party is proving that passionate voices can be heard. Maybe we can learn from them, though our message should contain more than simple platitudes. Our message needs to convey the principled substance of health care justice, and it needs to be loud, clear and highly infectious.