This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah Beth Jackson of Speak Out California
A weekly update on the goings-on in Sacramento
For the week ending November 3, 2007
Key bills and issues we’ve been following during the
Past week and beyond
This is usually a pretty quiet time in Sacramento. While this situation remains pretty much the case, the slowly dying Special Session still remains. With the big battle over water ending in a stalemate, the debate over health care reform showed a glimmer of activity this week as the Assembly Health Committee held a full-blown hearing on the Governor’s health care proposal. There wasn’t any progress to speak of, although the Speaker, Fabian Nunez pledged to keep working to reach a compromise. Unfortunately, few in Sacramento believe either side will make necessary concessions to make that happen.
When times are slow, polls become more interesting-at least to those political wonks who are otherwise suffering withdrawal from relative inactivity. This week was no different as the well-respected Public Policy Institute of California came out this week with the latest on several fronts. Among these are whether the people feel California is moving in the right direction or not (which is just another way of asking whether people are optimistic and hopeful about their future) and how the Governor would fare should he decide to take on Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010 for the U.S. Senate. As you can see, a lot of inside baseball here, especially since even the baseball season is finally over.
The ballot measures for 2008 are again coming to life, especially since right-wing Congressman Darrell Issa, who brought us the Davis Recall in 2003, has announced he will bankroll the return of the Electoral College measure. For those who thought this blatant right-wing power grab was dead, this measure will split California’s electoral votes from a winner-takes-all to a split of electoral votes by Congressional District. Translated, this would likely give the Republican candidate 20 electoral votes—or the size of Ohio or Florida. Since the Republicans haven’t won California in years, this is as good as giving them a 40 vote turnaround in the Electoral College, enough so the conventional wisdom holds, to steal the election for the Republicans. And since it is felt that Rudy Guliani is the one most likely to benefit from this ploy, and there are many dirty footprints leading to his door on this measure, the Dems are howling. All this makes for good copy, of course, and keeps the political junkies busy during an otherwise slow period before the election cycle kicks in. Of course, this year, the election cycle seems to have started months ago and seems to be in overdrive already.
With so much bad press recently for Speaker Fabian Nunez’s spending habits, the Term-Limits/Extension measure Prop. 93 appears to be sliding out of favor dramatically with California’s likely voters. Added to the woes of current members hoping to extend their terms in office is the announcement by billionaire State Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner, that he will help bankroll the opposition to the measure. Even though the supporters of the measure have a substantial war chest, this measure looks like it may go down with a big thud.
And now for the week’s goings-on:
Health Care in the Governor’s Special Session
The Governor finally got his opportunity to publicly roll-out his insurance-based health care plan. With his normal theatrical flair, the measure had a full hearing before the assembly Health Committee this week. Ever gracious Health Secretary Kim Belshe, presented the Governor’s now more specifically formulated proposal to a skeptical committee. Because the measure assumes that the insurance industry remains in the play—and in fact, insists upon it, there was no discussion of one of the fundamental questions in the entire debate: what benefit (if any) does the insurance industry bring to the delivery of health care to Californians? The Governor’s proposal simply presumes a benefit, although it is seriously challenged.
In fact, the basic premise of real universal health care is that there is one entity that is responsible for paying out to the healthcare providers (like the very successful and cost-effective U.S. Medicare/Medical system). No insurance companies, no profits, just one agency that oversees payments. That allows everyone to choose their own docs and healthcare providers who will be able to practice without insurance company interference, get paid a fair fee and discard all the bureaucratic tape of having to deal with the thousands of different plans in California alone.
But, unfortunately, the Governor’s proposal would require that all Californians buy health insurance and on that basis all Californians would be covered. Even assuming for the moment that this is a good approach, the Governor’s proposal makes the purchase of insurance mandatory, but doesn’t say what that cost would entitled us to receive and doesn’t cap the cost that the insurance industry can charge for the various services, medications, etc. that we would be getting for our premium payments.
Without any controls, the measure was predictably poorly received. In addition, there is no agreement on how to fund the program. The Republicans won’t support any system to pay for the coverage and the Dems don’t like the mandatory requirement aspects of the proposal. The Governor wants to cap employer contributions at 4%, but this is even less than what companies who are already contributing for health premiums are paying now.
During the hearing, it was exposed that the Governor’s proposal is not clear as to who is covered under the mandatory provisions requirement. Nor is there a mechanism to contain costs of premiums that the insurance industry can charge.
Another cause for concern is that minimum insurance would mean minimum coverage, so that those unable to afford much would likely end up paying for something that doesn’t provide them with the care they would need anyway- meaning they would be paying for nothing…not a very good system.
About the only point of agreement in all this is that insurance companies would not be able to reject providing insurance (such as it would be) for pre-existing conditions. Although this might seem to be a good place to start negotiations, neither side appears to be willing to concede on any of the above mentioned points. This is often referred to as a stalemate.
Hopefully, at some point, we’ll be able to get back to a meaningful discussion of whether healthcare should be available to everyone and if so, how we can construct a profit-based, yet more cost effective and equitable system to delivering meaningful healthcare to all?
For an excellent piece on the problems with the Governor’s proposal, check out Consumer Federation of California’s Richard Holober’s piece here.
Polls: a snapshot of what the people are thinking today
When times are slow, polls take on a particular interest. This week’s offerings from the highly regarded Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) are no exception. One of the most consistent areas the PPIC investigates is how the public perceives the present and future- taking the pulse of the public’s optimism or pessimism regarding the days to come. While it tends to fluctuate significantly, trends are often discernable and serve to highlight the kinds of policies and leadership the public wants or believes it is getting.
Right track or wrong track?
The current pulse shows that Californians are evenly divided on whether they believe the state is on the “right track” with 42% believing we are and 42% believing we’re on the “wrong-track”. For those who think we’re headed in the wrong direction, 21% cite immigration and uncontrolled borders as the reason we’re going the wrong way. This represents a 6% increase from the 15% who felt immigration was the number one problem in California in 2005. Thirteen percent of those who think we’re headed down the wrong path cited education and school cuts as the second most serious problem in the state.
Those who believe the picture is rosy and headed down the right path attributed their optimism to the Governor (21%) while 19% attributed it to the state’s economy. For a further discussion of this data, check out the Sac Bee article here.
The importance of college and higher education
And while on the subject of higher education, a strong majority of Californians believe that one of the keys to success is obtaining a college education. Sadly, 56% of Californians believe is harder to get that education today than it was a decade ago. The PPIC poll shows that an impressive 76% see our state’s higher education system as a key- to our quality of life and economic well-being. There is little doubt that we need to do more in California to improve access to this vitally important path to economic opportunity and well-being. For more on this subject, check out Frank Russo’s excellent piece here.
Boxer vs. Arnold for U.S. Senate in 2010:
For real political wonks, polls showed that if there were a match-up today between Senator Barbara Boxer and Governor Schwarzenegger, it would be a statistical dead heat. While this has many progressives concerned, the governor insists he has no interest in the seat and doesn’t intend to challenge the Senator who, by virtue of her seniority, now chairs the very important Senate Subcommittee on the Environment. While one would like to take the Governor at his word, he has been known to change his mind at the very last minute—as he did when he announced his decision to run for Governor on the Jay Leno show. Not only did that announcement shock his staff, but his wife as well. So, we’ll have to stay-tuned on that one.
New or re-heated initiatives on the horizon
Just when we thought the right-wing power-grabbers were sufficiently embarrassed and humiliated to put the Electoral College scam measure on the ballot, they’ve found a new champion to come to their rescue in the form of Darrell Issa redux. This is the measure that was originally fronted by a group with the ignominious distinction of being led by a Republican operative best known for biting the backsides of women. While this measure would certainly bite the back-side of democracy by breaking up California’s electoral votes, and possibly handing the Republican presidential candidate an undeserved victory in the 2008 Presidential election (not exactly something new), it needs a quick insurgence of cash to ensure it can qualify for the November 2008 ballot. With only a few weeks left to qualify, we’ll be seeing a lot of paid signature gatherers misleading unsuspecting voters to sign their petitions. It will be ugly and is already the subject of litigation as the Dems are not going to let this piece of undemocratic mischief see the light of day, if at all possible.
Proposition 93- The term limits/expansion initiative
The measure, sponsored by the leadership of both houses of the legislature, got some bad news this week as the polling shows that support for Prop 93 plummets dramatically when the public discovers that it will give sitting members additional time in the legislature. While the current term-limits rule has wreaked havoc on our legislative system, this proposal has far too many skeptics seeing it as an obvious attempt to keep the current leadership in power longer than it should be. Given the negative couple weeks Speaker Fabian Nunez has had over his disclosed uses of campaign funds, it is little wonder that the public is souring on this measure. For more on this story, click here.
From the Speak Out California In-box
While we often receive emails from our readers (who for some reason would rather email than post on our blog!), this week was particularly heavy on concerns and outrage over Senator Dianne Feinstein’s support of Judge Mukasey’s confirmation. Several of you were indignant that the Senator would support a candidate who will not condemn water-boarding as torture. While we generally try to focus on California issues and activity within the state, we, too, are very concerned about approving someone who hasn’t the courage or perhaps the moral compass to condemn torture sanctioned by the government of the United States. We urge those who share this concern, to let Senator Feinstein’s office know of your displeasure. Certainly, at the least, we as Californians are entitled to know why she has given her critical vote to confirm under these circumstances. To contact her office, click here.
The Rest of the Story
Our blogging offerings for the week:
Keeping big business happy at our children’s expense— A look at the conduct of the federal agency tasked with protecting our health and safety as consumers and as parents, while our children are exposed to dangerous and unsafe toys.
The Power of the Words, We the People— a look at how “we”, the people, are really “we”, the government.
To read and comment on these entries just go to: www.speakoutca.org/weblog/
Until next week,
Hannah-Beth Jackson and the Speak Out California Team