On Monday, lawmakers will vote on a sweeping change to the state’s health care system, which could dramatically change how every Californian receives health care, and for the worse.
According to estimates, the bill would cost at least $356.5 billion per year to implement and would impose a $163 billion tax increase on Californians. Provisions in the measure allow lawmakers to raise taxes even higher via majority vote if funds are insufficient to pay for the program.
With such a sweeping proposal on the cusp of approval, one would think that lawmakers would be extremely deliberate before casting their vote. Think again.
Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen tweeted that “AB 1400 is the largest tax increase in state history & yet the Assembly Appropriations committee did not have any discussion on the financial impact of the bill.”
While Assembly Bill 1400 had a lengthy hearing in the Assembly Health Committee earlier this month, the Assembly Appropriations Committee couldn’t be bothered to discuss it for even a moment.
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, “waved presentation” on the bill, which means that the Appropriations Committee voted to pass the bill without debate (though a few noisy members of the public made their opposition known from a remote camera stationed on the Capitol grounds.)
Veteran liberal Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton called the committee’s actions “shameful”. The Southern California News Group editorial board called Kalra’s effort “a slap in the face to good government.” When do you ever see those two agree on something?
When I worked in the Legislature, it was a common to see bills authored by Democratic lawmakers filled with “warts” approved anyway, rather than held in the policy committee and worked on until becoming fully developed. “While I have reservations, I’ll vote to pass it today so we can continue the conversation,” was a typical refrain.
It is also not uncommon for bills that are not fully baked to even pass the house of origin. Lawmakers justify this by saying, “we’re continuing to meet with all stakeholders so let’s let the process continue.”
Sometimes, imperfect bills are made better this way. In other cases, as with AB 1400, a reckless proposal moves through the committee and potentially through the house of origin, even though it is in no way ready for prime time.
Serious questions asked by lawmakers in the Assembly Health Committee have essentially gone unanswered. Keep in mind that when fundamentally overhauling the health care system, there will be no real chance to fix things later if lawmakers get it wrong.
If ever there was a candidate to slow down a bill, it is AB 1400. Unfortunately politics is driving the debate. Democratic lawmakers up for re-election this year are “feeling the Bern” of their liberal base anxious for single-payer health care. Casting a vote for AB 1400 is an easier proposition knowing that a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and a majority vote of California voters are also required to pass the bill’s taxes in ACA 11 or else AB 1400 won’t take effect. Both are highly unlikely.
Many around the Capitol will push back and argue that the process doesn’t matter to people’s everyday lives. The legislative “sausage making,” they argue, is too slow anyway.
Remember the old story of the tortoise and the hare. Everyone thought the hare’s rushing through the race would result in victory. But it was the deliberative ways of the tortoise that actually carried the day. The same analogy can apply to legislation.
When too many lawmakers are channeling their inner hares trying to rush through a policy change, we could use some more tortoises as the State Capitol these days to ensure more deliberate policymaking takes place, especially on an issue of life and death for Californians.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.