The action is returning to Sacramento today with a “Big 5″ meeting of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders on health care and other priority items and the launch of a hard-hitting new TV ad pressing for health care reform.
The California Endowment, the state’s largest health care foundation, has a $6 million advertising campaign on pressing for comprehensive health care reform this year. As of today it will feature a new “Code Blue” TV ad on a system in crisis. California Endowment chief Dr. Bob Ross shows up at the Capitol with an ambulance as stage prop to preview the new ad, which will play up a crisis atmosphere in a state with challenged emergency rooms, costs going up, and nearly a million kids with no insurance. The organization notes that 69% of Californians are unhappy with the health care system and want it changed, but only 6% think it’s very likely to happen in this legislative session, which is slated to end September 14th.
State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata is not in that small, optimistic group. In various comments yesterday to Capitol beat reporters, Perata struck a tone that can only be described as morose. He lamented the “bruising and battering” of the state budget fight and predicted that nothing of particular note will happen before the session closes. Told that Schwarzenegger is contemplating keeping the Legislature around in special session to deal, if need be, with any or all of the priority issues of health care, redistricting reform, and water policy, Perata persisted in his gloomy mood.
Actually, the failure of the Senate conservative Republican holdouts to make any real changes in the deal offered them a month before they finally acquiesced to the state budget, and the internal fallout in that caucus, will make it easier next year to get Republican votes when needed. And the budget fight, such as it was, was not nearly so hard-hitting as most of those in the past.
With his trademark optimism, Schwarzenegger seemed late last week to believe he could get Republican votes for his health care reform measure, which the Legislature’s lawyers, at least, believe requires a two-thirds vote to impose a fee, which many believe is a tax, on health care providers as part of its undergirding funding. That was always unlikely, at best. While Schwarzenegger has done a good job of winning business support and/or acquiescence with regard to comprehensive change, he runs afoul of the Republicans’ ideological anti-government faction. The Democrats’ plan does not require a two-thirds vote for passage.
This prompted Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to pull a play — first reported on NWN last Friday — of saying that he will force a vote on Schwarzenegger’s plan, after first endeavoring to at last get it into bill form.
What this burst of reality checking and posturing on those two sides has done is point up the need for high-level action. Hence the Big 5 session today, which will focus mostly, but not entirely, on health care, the most complex of the three big issues before the Capitol.
With Democrats angry over the right-wing budget stall, prospects for big moves this year on water policy, never great — given environmentalist shibboleths against dam construction and new water conveyance, even in a state beset by the greenhouse effect, with a population projected to increase more than a third by 2050 — are further diminished.
But redistricting reform is easily within all the parties’ grasp.
Indeed, they will have few excuses and a lot of explaining to do if it does not happen. Since Perata and Nunez have previously pledged to make it happen, the Republicans have always said they want it and are committed to it, and Schwarzenegger has been for it since before he became governor.
And without redistricting reform, there is no change to term limits.
Earlier this year, Perata devised an Iraq War withdrawal advisory measure for next February’s ballot, in part to stimulate turn-out and aid the passage of the term limits change measure without which he loses his post. Following earlier passage in the Senate, it got by in the Assembly yesterday on a 43-32 vote.
So the stage is set for action on at least one of the three major issues, and perhaps more.
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