An Actual Path to Single-Payer in California — and Speaker Rendon Can Help? Maybe Yes — and Here’s How!


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Anthony Rendon may not be the real problem, but neither are his critics. But there may be a way out.

If I were to have published the defense of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon that I had planned to write earlier this week — before Rendon pissed me off so much by saying something like “hey, ask the California Nurses Association to come up with a plan to fund a single-payer health-care system, not me!” that I decided it wasn’t worth taking the time and the heat to defend him — then its arguments would have looked a lot like those in David Dayen’s piece in The Intercept today, although kinder to those proponents:

In the days since California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved for the year SB562, which intends to establish a state single-payer health care system, he’s been subject to mass protests and even death threats. The bill’s chief backers, including the California Nurses Association and the Bernie Sanders-affiliated Our Revolution, angrily point to Rendon as the main roadblock to truly universal health care.

They’re completely wrong. What’s more, they know they’re wrong. They’re perfectly aware that SB562 is a shell bill that cannot become law without a ballot measure approved by voters. Rather than committing to raising the millions of dollars that would be needed to overcome special interests and pass that initiative, they would, apparently, rather deceive their supporters, hiding the realities of California’s woeful political structure in favor of a morality play designed to advance careers and aggrandize power.

There’s a reason that every California single-payer bill in the last 25 years — and there have been at least seven, two of which passed the legislature and were vetoed, so we in the Golden State have seen this movie before — never includes a funding mechanism. It’s not necessarily because of fear of voting for higher taxes, or even the two-thirds threshold to increase a tax in the legislature.

It’s because you can’t do the funding without help from the voters, because of California’s fatal addiction to its perverse form of direct democracy. The blame, in other words, lies with ourselves.

So, naturally, I write today to take issue with Dayen’s article.  I have some criticism from (more or less) “the right” — yes, we absolutely do have to address the problem of sicker people moving to California the minute we pass it, and of whether the federal government can kill it at will, and of how to phase out payroll-based insurance (presuming that we do) as well, etc. — but most of my criticism is from the left: Dayen should know that his plan isn’t going to work either, any more than those last seven plans did!

And perhaps the only way to get onto the only path with a chance of working is precisely what he derides: lighting a fire (metaphorically, I suppose I have to clarify these days) under Speaker Rendon — but for a slightly different purpose: to get him to create the best bill possible by the end of the year, not because we think it will pass, but regardless of whether it passes.

Why?  Because THAT DEFEATED LEGISLATION, with financing included, would be the plan with the best chance of passing.

Dayen is right that Rendon is not “THE” problem. He’s wrong that immediately starting ballot initiative is the wise move. Why? Because legislating by ballot initiative, BEFORE there is agreement on the best plan for what it would say, is a recipe for failure.

Ballot initiatives that address complex situations often lose because they require a thousand moving parts, each of which is debatable, especially when it comes to revenue sources. If something springs directly from the foreheads of initiative proponents, it will surely be derided as half-baked and will die the death of a thousand cuts as different groups carp about this or that provision.

The best way to get a generally agreeable provision is to have it go through the whole legislative process, have the Democratic majority (although not the supermajority) fashion the best possible plan — and then LET IT LOSE IN THE LEGISLATURE BY A VOTE OR TWO if it can’t win (and get past the Governor, although the margin to pass is the same as the margin to overturn a veto.)

THEN we have the plan that can go to an initiative, if they don’t have the votes to make it a referendum.

In fact, Dayen’s argument shows that Rendon IS the key to getting this done — although the criticism of him as “the one guy who stopped it” is misplaced. We should be telling Rendon this:

“CRAFT THE BEST BILL! VET IT THOROUGHLY! DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHETHER IT WILL GET 2/3 IN BOTH HOUSES AND SIGNED! IF IT LOSES, WE WILL BE THE ONES TO GET IT ONTO THE BALLOT, IF YOU CAN’T!

If this strategy becomes our marching orders to Rendon, then that explains our current hurry — NOT because we think that SB-562 can pass as a one-year bill, but because we want to have a proposal fully vetted by the legislature and as strong as possible, so that we can do what we need to do to get it onto the November ballot. THAT is why it can’t languish on the shelf.

If Rendon won’t go along with THAT, then sure let’s get him removed from the Speakership. But why wouldn’t he? Hell, if it’s clear that we’re fashioning the bill on which voters will eventually vote, even BROWN should want to get involved in the discussions on making it work


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)