Tag Archives: special session

Wherein I Agree With Todd Spitzer

This is not going to happen often, folks, so get it while it’s hot.

Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer thinks calling California’s termed-out lawmakers back to the Capitol after the Nov. 4 election is “absurd.”

“With the philosophical differences still firmly in place it is unlikely anything will be finalized” before lawmakers are forced from office on Dec. 1, Spitzer writes on his blog.

“As a termed out legislator, I feel it is absurd that my termed out colleagues and I could potentially be called back to try and fix the ever increasing budget deficit. Both sides have no incentive to reach across the aisle and accomplish anything, especially since Election Day will be in our past.”

He happens to be absolutely right.  As CapAlert noticed yesterday, a special session beginning on November 5 would have to reach agreement before the December 1 swearing-in of new lawmakers.  Throw in Thanksgiving and you’re talking about 10, maybe 15 business days, tops, to hammer out a deal.  And Yacht Party charter member Spitzer would know – the Republicans aren’t likely to agree to anything.

Why not let the will of the people express itself on November 4, and let the new solution to the budget mess flow naturally from that?  If the public wants Democrats to hold 2/3 of the legislature, so be it.  They would be making the choices on revenue and spending that they wish the legislature to enact.  To have a lame-duck session invalidates their wishes.  So much for the Governor of the people.

Arnold Calls the Special Session as the Legislative Republicans Engage in Magical Thinking

Last week, I mentioned that the Governor was likely going to call a special session to deal with the budget.  He’s now announced as much, and now we have three plans emerging:

1) The Democratic Plan: Realism. We can only do so much to cut spending without slashing into services that a vast majority of Californians agree are essential. So, we need to increase revenue to balance the budget.

2) Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Idea: It’s not so far off from the Democrats really. He has pretty clearly accepted the fact that we need additional revenue, at least in the short term. He wants a commission in the mold of Speaker Bass’s long term plan to reform the tax structure.  Cool, but I’m not sure we have the time for that.

3) Legislative Republicans and their magical thinking: This is real:

The Legislature’s Republican leaders – Sen. Dave Cogdill, Modesto, and Assemblyman Mike Villines, Clovis – delivered a letter to Schwarzenegger on Monday urging that taxes be lowered to bolster California’s rocky economy.

Specifically, the GOP leaders asked for a new employee tax credit for businesses that hire the unemployed; a manufacturing investment credit for equipment purchases; a cut in the capital gains tax to encourage business investment; and modification of the tax code and suspension of regulatory burdens to spur job creation. (SacBee 10/27/08)

Um, they aren’t even going to pretend to present a solution? They are just going to demand what amounts to additional spending at a time of fiscal crisis. Is Mike Villines even in contact with reality any more?

Folks, this makes the Nov. 4 election all the more critical. We need to win every contested seat. However, it looks likely that we won’t get to 2/3 in both houses, even if everything goes exceedingly well. So, here’s my prognostication:

The Republicans refuse to address reality, and nothing happens in the special session save a few, relatively minor cuts on the budget. I’m not sure if there’s anything left for Democrats to give at this point. If anything else is taken from education, CTA is likely to start primarying incumbents. Same thing for other interest groups.

So, the Democratic leaders and Arnold come to some sort of agreement and put something on the special election ballot, probably in March.  They might need to gather signatures for it, but I just don’t see the situation that gets us 2/3 in the Assembly.

Unless we surpass every expectation.  So, back to work…

Is Anything Going to Change This Time – Governor to Call Special Session

You know, it’s now been so overquoted that it is now a cliche, but Albert Einstein once famously said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Yet, here we are.  Today, the Governor’s peeps have told us that they plan on calling a special lame-duck session to address the worsening budget disaster. After just a few short weeks since the budget passed, we are already in dire straits.

So, Arnold, if you are going to do this, really do it.  Tell the Legislative leaders of your party that it’s your way or the highway. Tell them that we must increase revenues or we will break this state.  After all, it’s the truth. You know it, and frankly, so do the Legislative Republicans. Tell them that they will support a plan to increase revenue, or you will go on the campaign trail and denounce them as obstructionists of our future.

Tell them.  Or not, and refer back to the Einstein quote.  

Special Session-O-Rama

Looks like that Dec. 5 deadline for voting on a health care proposal has been extended, after the power play of scheduling it on the day of the Republican Assembly retreat was justified by the Speaker’s office by saying “Deadlines are deadlines.”  Until they aren’t.

And now, there’s talk of a third special session, this one on the subprime mortgage crisis.  I guess the inaction on the first two was not sufficient; we need a third.  And I appreciate efforts to stop predatory lending, though I’m not sure how this would make a dent in what is a national credit lending problem.

I’m still not sure we have a housing “crisis” or just a housing market downturn, but I am pretty sure that nothing the Assembly is going to do in a special session this year is going to affect it one way or the other. Well, they are probably capable of making it worse. But I don’t think they can or will do anything to increase the value of my home, and while I’d love the help, I don’t particularly think they should try.

I’m not as dismissive as Dan Weintraub; this is most definitely a crisis.  But I’m not really sure what the Assembly can do.  The bills they have proposed would only apply to new loans.  That’s important, but they would not do a whole lot for those facing foreclosure.  And anyway, those entering into new loans would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to agree to some no-money-down ARM at this point.  And this bit from the press conference is flat-out embarrassing:

In an illustration of the complexity of the crisis, though, one of the homeowners presented at the press conference as a victim said the house he lost was actually one of two that he owned.

While many owners have lost homes they occupied, others were investors who saw the real estate run-up of the past decade as an investment opportunity.

Sacramento resident Carlos Villegas said he was forced into foreclosure when monthly payments on the house he bought in 2005 shot up from $2,200 to $3,550.

“They gave me three days to move,” he said. “I feel frustrated with the system.

In response to questions from reporters, Villegas said after the foreclosure, he moved back to a smaller house he had purchased 10 years earlier, which he had been renting out.

Of all the people with foreclosure problems, you found a guy with another house?!?

The credit mess is a national problem, and state solutions are nice, but they’re not going to work.  Perhaps driving down the costs of healthcare through a new reform would be the BEST way to help those struggling with home payments.

UPDATE: CPR has a summary of Democratic legislative proposals, and I have to say that the steps to address the current crisis are fairly weak tea.  Some of these, like foreclosure consultant reform, are already illegal; others, like facilitating reporting on workout agreements and increasing talk between homeowners and creditors, should have been initiated months ago.  The only substantive policy I see here is shoveling $10 million dollars to credit counselors.  The federal plan being worked out by the Treasury Department, to freeze teaser rates for some mortgages, would do a hell of a lot more good.

Has Arnold Killed The Special Session on Health Care?

Last week Arnold announced his health care reform plan for the special session – a plan that Anthony Wright of Health Access California describes as his January plan, except worse. By insisting on an individual mandate with few subsidies and hardly any cost controls or care guarantees, Arnold offered a plan that was certain to satisfy nobody.

As a result of this craptacular plan, as today’s LA Times reports, “Unions give up on governor’s health plan”:

Abandoning their facade of cooperation, a coalition of California labor unions and consumer groups says it is gearing up a campaign to discredit Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s healthcare proposal as too expensive for many workers.

Organizers say they will trail Schwarzenegger throughout California to challenge and rebut him, hold prayer vigils and news conferences, press elected officials to oppose his proposal and run critical ads on television. They plan to deride the governor’s program as the “Arnold Middle-Class Gouge.”

The coalition, which includes most major unions and two prominent consumer groups — Health Access California and Consumers Union — has hired one of the nation’s most aggressive Democratic strategists to run the campaign [that would be Chris Lehane – RinM].

The campaign represents a break from labor leaders’ strategy, which had been to encourage Schwarzenegger’s efforts while gently prodding him in their direction. Leaders say they no longer believe that the governor will ever agree to their priorities without pressure.

Jordan Rau’s coverage of health care in California has been excellent, but I think he’s been saddled with a bad headline here. It’s not the unions who are giving up on the governor – it’s Arnold who gave up on them, and on the state, when he reasserted his non-starter plan.

The article notes that “labor leaders walked out” of a meeting last week with the governor and his staff over healthcare, specifically the insufficient employer fees and lack of subsidies. Lehane is crafting a strategy that points out the obvious – that individual mandates are a recipe for widespread financial ruin:

Starting Wednesday, they plan to publicly argue that Schwarzenegger’s plan is unaffordable for many. It would require individuals earning more than $35,735 and families of four making more than $72,275 to buy insurance without any subsidies for the costs. Unions say those thresholds are at least $10,000 too low.

(Personally I think even higher thresholds won’t help make an individual mandate workable, but the unions are right that these thresholds are not very helpful.)

With the shift to outright opposition, it is difficult to see how a health care deal will be concluded this session – especially as Arnold, captive of the Cal Chamber of Commerce (as Brian and Julia have explained), is highly unlikely to move in the direction that Dems and labor would like him to.

Instead this, like everything else in California politics these days, is headed for the ballot:

The labor groups are threatening to bring their own proposal to the voters in a ballot initiative next year. Itwould place on employers most of the financial responsibility for providing insurance on employers, as did the Democratic healthcare overhaul vetoed by Schwarzenegger last week.

A similar measure that passed the Legislature in 2003 was narrowly rejected the following year in a referendum brought by business groups, but labor groups thinks Californians’ concern about health care has risen to the extent that the public would accept such a measure now.

And of course, when we speak of taking things to the ballot – a costly project in terms of money, effort, and time – it raises the question of why we should not instead expend that effort toward a successful single-payer ballot initiative.

The No-Brainer Healthcare Reform, Or, The Importance of a “Real” Job

Back when AB 8 passed, I said it didn’t accomplish everything I would like it to do.  And I think that’s abundantly clear to everybody, from every which way you look at it.  The obvious failure in the healthcare system is the employer-based system itself. It is now falling apart, and the individual healthcare system is not yet robust enough to be a replacement.  So, you end up with people, even perfectly healthy people like myself, denied coverage.

But the no-brainer in there? A state health insurance pool. The state needs to organize a pool that will allow people to buy insurance, at a reasonable price, backed up by the power of the state. There are thousands, probably millions, of people who would be happy to pay for health insurance, if they could just get it.

So, without getting too personal about my situation, I’m going to tell you my story. Not that being too personal has really stopped me in the past, but oh well.  All future Oppo researchers, flip the page.

As many people who read Calitics regularly know, I’m a recent graduate of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the state’s premier institution of higher learning, the University of California Berkeley. (Yeah, take that, UCLA!) My student health insurance terminated in the middle of August, and so I tried to apply for Kaiser.  But, you see, the questions are not so easy to answer no to.  In essence, to get coverage you either lie or get denied.  I told the truth, and I got denied.  For example, check out Blue Shield’s application questions. I don’t want to pick on Blue Shield, or even Kaiser, because there are worse companies, but well, the whole system stinks, so I’ll pick on everybody.

So, tell me you can answer the favored choice on some of those applications.  For example, how about the “skeletal system” question:

Musculo-skeletal system — such as: pain, injury, sprain, or other problems of the neck, spine, or back; sciatica; herniated or bulging disc(s); curvature of the spine; scoliosis; pain, injury, or other problems of the joints, bones, or muscles; arthritis; rheumatoid arthritis; temporo-mandibular joint syndrome (TMJ); Lyme disease; broken bones or retained hardware; dislocation of joints; bunions; hammertoe; carpal tunnel syndrome; physically handicapped; polio; amputations?

So, they group back injuries with sprained ankles? Of which, I have had one within recent memory. So, I answer yes. But there is no room to explain that you injured your ankle in a basketball game, and it’s not been a problem since.  Same thing with several other sections of the application. They give you these massive groups of disorders, major and minor, and then expect you to answer with no explanation. It’s pretty much a joke. If you tell the truth they deny you now. If you lie, they rescind coverage, and you end up even worse than square 1. 

And then if you do lie on the healthcare application, you have to make sure you keep lying to your doctors. So, say I had another ankle sprain, had I lied, I guess I would have had to say to my doctor, “Uh, yeah, never had anything wrong with my ankle, doc.” That kind of dishonest doctor/patient relationship helps nobody. It increases costs, by requiring additional tests and what not, and delays necessary treatment.  But for many in California, it’s either “Lie or Die.” That’s no way to run a healthcare system.

The funny thing here? I’m extremely healthy. I run several times a week and haven’t been to the doctor for several years. Even if you were going to cherry pick, you would want to cherry pick me. I mean, I hate the doctor, and certainly don’t go there for kicks and giggles.  Yet as somebody who is trying to build a career slightly out of the traditional mold, I am discouraged at every corner.  In other words, this health care system is a way to discourage small business growth in a way that is far more pernicious than any tax.  You are left with a crap shoot, or worse, left living your life based on how you can get health insurance. It’s wrong, it’s bad for our economy, and it’s bad for Californians.

But a state health insurance pool wouldn’t even be that hard to organize, and should be a no-brainer. Sure, Blue Cross will fight it, but they fight everything.  So, all you Legislators out there, how about this as the first course of business? Get a state health insurance pool passed as the first order of business in the special session, separate of any other grand insurance reform. And then get on to the grand notions of reform (and hopefully to single payer) during the rest of the session.

Or, hey, anybody want to hire me and get me on your health insurance group? Maybe we can provide insurance one blogger at a time.

Schwarzenegger Calls For Special Legislative Session On Health Care: A Fait Accompli?

(AB 8 is on the floor of the Assembly right now. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

There are other things going on besides the Petraeus/Crocker testimony today, though I’m not covering much of it.  But this is kind of important for the future of our nation on its most valued domestic policy.  Over the past few days in California rumblings of a health care deal was moving into focus.  Dan Weintraub that this would result in a deal between the Governor and the Legislature on a workable reform featuring shared responsibility from hospitals, individuals, employers and doctors, with the funding for said deal to be delivered in a ballot measure later on.  Here’s the way it would go:

The legislation would outline a program requiring nearly everyone in California to buy insurance, with subsidies for people making less than four times the federal poverty rate, or about $80,000 a year for a family of four. Insurers would have to cover everyone who applied, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and could not charge customers more because they had been sick in the past.

The subsidies, along with an expansion of free care for the poorest of the poor, would be financed by a new payroll tax, an increase in the sales tax, a special fee on hospitals and an infusion of federal money. The new state charges would be put before the voters because they would require a two-thirds vote for approval in the Legislature, where Republicans have vowed en masse to oppose any increase in taxes or fees.

But before such a deal can be reached, Democrats might send Schwarzenegger legislation that would place the entire burden for expanding access to insurance on employers — an approach the governor has already said he would reject. Labor union supporters of the Democrats may want to force Schwarzenegger’s hand on that issue before any discussions about a compromise can occur.

Once Schwarzenegger vetoes that bill, if it comes to him, he would call the Legislature back into a special session to focus on health care and a handful of other issues. If that happens, the governor’s aides believe they could reach agreement with lawmakers relatively quickly.

If so, such a deal would set the stage for a ballot measure campaign in 2008 that would promise Californians two things: an expansion of health insurance to millions of people who lack coverage today and protections against losing coverage for people who already have it.

Well, let’s take a look at what happened today.  An amended AB8, with positive movement on affordability and cost containment, received the support of health care experts and top labor groups.  The Senate and Assembly schedules a vote for today which has only an employer-based pay mechanism.  And the governor pledged to both veto it and call a special session.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today he will call a special session of the state Legislature to deal with health care, as lawmakers prepared to debate a Democratic plan he has pledged to veto […]

“What everyone wants, and what we all want, is access to health care so it is affordable and so that everyone can have health care, and no one ever has to worry about it again, that they maybe have to file for personal bankruptcy because they have to stay in a hospital for a few days,” Schwarzenegger said at the University of California, Los Angeles. “So we are working on this right now. We’re going to have an extended session, a special session that we are calling today.”

Schwarzenegger says the Democrats’ bill asks too much of employers, while they reject his demand that health insurance be mandatory.

Sounds like Weintraub got some good information.  The question is whether the resolution will wind up as Weintraub suggests it.  If so, this entire move by the Democratic leadership and their allies in labor has been an enormous kabuki dance.  They get a chance to say they tried it their way but they just had to compromise with the governor, when it seems this may have been part of the deal all along.

Maybe we’ll get meaningful health care reform out of a special session.  But I’m not terribly optimistic.

UPDATE: In addition, it’s not clear to me that having 50 separate health care deals in 50 states is a desirable outcome.