How To Kill The Change We Believe In: California Single Payer is Dead

Legislation takes compromise
Legislation takes compromise

Those who have pragmatic views of what one can gain via government have long been at odds with the progressive purists among us. People who work on policy understand negotiations, compromise, taking time. Ideologues – unknowing progressives – want it all NOW and want it just as they desire. Quick fixes! Immediate change! My way!

This past week these unknowing progressives finally did something that caused real damage to a highly desired outcome. Adopting the tactics of the TeaBaggers, they rallied for the beloved cause of single payer health care – and killed it. Here is the story.

Single payer has been on the California legislative docket since 2004. It was authored by former state Senator Sheila Kuehl, arguably one of the most intelligent and collegial senators perhaps ever. She shepherded the bill through both houses several times, only to have it vetoed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who, although he grew up with single payer care in Austria, dismissed it as “socialist” here in his adopted state.

Kuehl was termed out in 2008, and another brilliant and energetic Senator, Mark Leno from San Francisco took up the mantle. The problem is, he came into the Senate along with a new set of legislators who had not walked the single payer walk and were unfamiliar with it and wary of its costs and consequences.

Single payer has been advocated for decades by zealous true believers. Early in the game they revealed their utter ignorance of legislative process by bombarding a senator’s staffer with aggressive demands that she reveal if she supported the plan even though staffers are not allowed to express personal opinions. Hovering over her like Snoopy playing vulture on the doghouse, they attacked the poor kid relentlessly. When an experienced lobbyist warned that this was a poor tactic, they turned on the lobbyist with fury and disdain.

The current bill, SB 810 has not sailed as smoothly as it did before mainly because the groups behind it could not be bothered to talk with the new senators and assembly members. Its first time out, it did not pass the Assembly.

Moreover, the fiscal analysis upon which much of the strength of the bill was pinned, was now obsolete, a decade old. Members of the state steering group agreed about 18 months ago that a new fiscal study was, indeed, essential, and members and Sen. Leno’s staff got a very knowledgeable group together. However, it was going to cost $250,000 to do the study, and the steering committee agreed to raise the money. To date, not one dime has been delivered.

Meanwhile, other steering committee members decided Leno wasn’t doing this fast enough and proposed going to the ballot and let voters decide. The rationale for this strategy lay in distrust in Sen. Leno’s “commitment” and a profoundly ignorant belief by the lead member that “Jerry will put it on the ballot for us.” Well, Governor Jerry Brown, cannot do any such thing. It would either have to be done with the expensive signature gathering – it costs $2-3 million just to gather signatures – or with an unachievable two-thirds supermajority of both legislative houses. When one steering committee member pointed that out, said member became persona non grata and was pretty much kicked out of the steering committee. Nevertheless, it was true. After several long months of fruitless interactions with a disinterested governor, the decision to raise the money was the next step. However, at the meeting where the report on fundraising was to occur, the ballot proponent was never showed up and simply disappeared. Why? No money. No report. No initiative.

Back to the legislature but this time with snarling anger toward Sen. Leno based on – well, it was not clear what. Single payer grassroots advocates began to accost him and his staff both in San Francisco and the Capitol. They berated staff if Leno wasn’t available, lambasting everyone, right down to the receptionist. They demanded accounts of what the Senator’s “tactics” were to be. Different groups came and went, all pounding desks and demanding “results”. Despite the lack of warm fuzzies from grassroots supporters, Sen. Leno doggedly re-introduced the bill with virtually no grassroots help.

And no help was forthcoming on economic analysis either. No fiscal analysis had been done, because no money had been raised, so the bill, predictably, languished in Senate Appropriations. Senators worried about what it would cost both the state and individuals and families. There was no way to tell. Would it hurt small businesses? Families? How could it be folded in with federal health reform (that single payer people hate and don’t remotely understand. After all – it’s not single payer. QED.) How would it dovetail with Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits? Nothing gave them up to date information because there is no fiscal study. Single payer advocates get bored by those kinds of details…

Soldiering on and using every ounce of political good will, Senate leadership extracted the bill from Appropriations and moved it to the floor. There is failed to pass by 2 votes since 5 likely supporters abstained. These were the newer senators no one had bothered to court from the grassroots base. And to whom no economic analysis could be given..

Again using political influence, Senate leadership held the bill open for “reconsideration” until the following Tuesday in an effort to change a couple of votes. Supporters flew into a rage and began an all-out phone campaign directed to the five abstaining senators and also the author and leadership.

What they did not know because they did not trust the actors or the system or even talk to Sen. Leno’s office, was that again, using political capital and collegial interaction, both Leno and Senate leadership were asking two senators for a “courtesy vote” – moving the bill even though the voting senators still had doubts. That was being worked out when the grassroots “progressives” ratcheted up the heat Monday morning the day before the absolutely last vote.

Calls by the hundreds, thousands overall, flowed into the abstaining senators’ offices – calls as nasty, as brutal, as demanding, as vicious as anything the Baggers ever dished out. They yelled at anyone, again even receptionists, called names, said they were traitors. One young intern was shattered by the incredibly vituperative attacks on her personally. Other, older and more worldly-wise, were still stunned that supporters of a bill would treat those whose vote they sought in such nasty and bullying and bizarre ways. Younger staff were in shock, at least one reduced to tears, and the senators, incensed at the viciousness of these demands became disgusted.

The courtesy votes shriveled under the scorched-earth onslaught from pro single payer fans. At the end of the day before the reconsideration vote, the bill had to be pulled so it would not be killed. It’s quieter, less public, but it’s still dead.

Post-apocalyptic analysis the next day revealed not only was single payer DOA for the remainder of the session, there was a strong likelihood it would never again be picked up again by a single legislator. The stories of the supporters’ brutal treatment of Senator Leno, Senate leadership, and most of all, senate staff just shot through the Capitol. No legislator who had not been hermetically sealed during the fray could ignore it.

So single payer in California is most likely dead legislatively. Not just the bill – the issue. It wasn’t killed by the usual suspects, the insurance industry, Chamber of Commerce, big Pharma, hospitals, or anti-tax folks.

It was killed by the supporters.

Thanks ideological purists. You told everyone how morally superior you are and what sell-outs the Senators are. They all got that. You win.

Someday though I hope you can tell us all – what was it you won?

Image: PNHPCalifornia

25 Replies to “How To Kill The Change We Believe In: California Single Payer is Dead”

  1. What a ginormous missed opportunity (= FAILURE) for the occupy bullshitters.

    Rather than marching into Harlem and calling Obama a nazi, they could have actually helped make life better for a substantial percentage of Americans.

    (shrug) I guess calling Obama a nazi is a lot funner.

  2. The next ti,me the progressives whine that Obama didn’t get them single payer, point this out. These people are idiots

  3. They’re idiots Phil because adults ( and yes sheriff , that includes most Occupy members , who you clearly have not noticed are waaayy more pragmatic than this bunch of hissy fit throwing Californians …observe their restraint in the overwhelming majority of police brutality cases…I’m assuming here that you understand that beating the crap out of someone who is utterly passive , denying meds to those who need them , keeping folks in ties for days so they shit and piss all over themselves and suffer possibly permanent nerve damage all MORE than qualify…and their active weeding out of black bloc instigating phonies and the like ) don’t throw tantrums , they GET SHIT DONE . Forcefully but not by shrieking and sensibly in constant touch with legislators that are ON their SIDE. These Calis are MORONS , spoiled petulant children who shot themselves in the foot and are now no doubt blaming anyone but themselves . I remember them doing the same thing in the late 80’s/early90’s with regard to an environmental bill. And weren’t they astonished when it crashed and burned ! Siighh . There will always be spoiled brats all over the political spectrum and they will always get in the damn way of folks who are actually getting shit DONE. As a loooong time liberal , yes . liberal and proud OF it ; like my boy Thomas Paine , I find it truly exhausting to deal with these …why I’m too damn tired even to administer the spanking they so richly deserve.

  4. They were going to vote for it. Disgusting and rude behavior coupled with a lack of responsible analysis they had PROMISED but did not deliver, all KILLED it. When you decide a priori that the legislature is “filled with jerks” you may, of course, sit smugly in your self righteousness. But those “jerks” WERE GOING TO VOTE FOR THE BILL. And the thuggery killed that right off.

    No one is obliged to put up with bullies, especially bullies who can’t even describe their own bill’s impacts. It’s always a good lesson to remember.

  5. Why do dems seem to always snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Is it in their DNA to give up at the last minute? The repugs will fight to the last man to keep the rich from paying their fair share, even in the states. What are our US dems going to do about the payroll tax extension, the FAA debacle on unions, that bleeping worthless Keystone pipeline? On the latter, John Kyl was on the floor this a.m. spouting the lies about the 350,000 jobs that the sludge-way project will create. what a liar. Repugs grab a piece of bullsh*t and keep running it out there in any event. Also, why didn’t Leno contact the governor of Vermont on the single payer issue? They approved it back in May, 2011. I’m sure some cost analysis was done. Even though they can’t put it in force until 2017, they still did it. Here is a link to one of the articles on this:

  6. The cost analysis of a small state such as Vermont was as irrelevant as the 12-year-old report that started it all. Dem Senators are NOT the problem! It was the arrogant, nasty, thuggish bullies who were in support. They ASSUMED that these four would not vote. That assumption was WRONG. The votes were coming to move it to the Assembly, but the sheer violence of supporters killed that chance. NO one can move a bill for which there is not the slightest evidence that it will improve both the individual, family and small business fortunes OR that it will help the state’s fiscal balance.

    Why do you blame the Dems? That is not the reason single payer has died. It died because of arrogant brutality from the supporters. THAT has to STOP and stop NOW.

  7. BTW – if you think you know what’s what about Vermont, you’re wrong. They have been promised a waiver to implement single payer in 2014 as the state option. Obama liked what Bernie Sanders told him, and he Obama said when they get the program ready, they can apply and will get the waiver. If ONLY single payer people in CA had done the same! They did NOTHING but crap and piss and moan and developed nothing that could move the bill. They never brought it to Boxer who’d have intervened as Bernie Sanders did. Vermont is not having to wait until 2017 because they got their bill passed, their fiscal analysis done, and single payer people are working with health administrators. They are adults and did this right. CA supporters just whined. And then, in the 11th hour, killed it with their Tea Party tactics.

    Know your facts before you make your judgment calls please.

  8. Single payer people in CA seem to find more fun in that, too.

    When all is said and done, what did they accomplish? I’m sure they are saying as some bloggers have said – “oh, our behavior is just an excuse used by the Blue Dogs not to vote.” My response would be – then why’d you GIVE them an excuse? They WERE prepared to vote. I know who it was and why. Viciousness and self-righteousness killed those votes. NO one whose staff was abused so disgustingly would vote for something about which they had serious doubts.

    Think where this would be if everyone who’d called had been persuasive and pleasant instead of trashing low-level staff – the bottom tiers of the 99% – in fury and self-righteousness. We might still have a chance.

    Not now.

  9. Using the same tactics that the disgusting teabaggers use is only successful if you also have a bought and paid for legislature like is the case in Washington District of Cash and most states right now. So, grow up folks. Take out your anger on the repubs in 2012 and then POLITELY present yourselves to the newly elected DEMOCRATIC legislatures.

  10. Nicely said! Look – Dems have troglodytes in their midst, too. We all know that. But Bagger tactics don’t work when you want something to pass. Furthermore – why is that the standard? It involves dissing and abusing the lower end of the 99%, staffers, many of whom are making under $30K and often much less and who are young. So where is the logic in bully tactics on ANY level? Progressives are not the obverse of Baggers but are supposed to represent what their name implies – progress.

    You don’t move forward by using the tactics of losers.

  11. I wonder how the author of this piece and some of the people commenting would have viewed the American colonists who rose up in anger to forcibly advance their agenda through violent, aggressive protest and revolutionary warfare.

    Were the colonists idiots? Were they misguided? Or did the ends justify the means?

    What if the single payer bill had passed? Would we still be reading this criticism, or would it be lost amidst the victory celebrations?

    Sometimes people are passionate. Sometimes they are moved to anger and even violence when they are denied recourse by their government.

    The Declaration of Independence endorses the overthrow of a government if it refuses to provide recourse for its citizens to the point of oppression. Clearly the American colonists endorsed and engaged in rabble rousing and violence as a means of addressing such a problem. They yelled, they destroyed property, they protested, and they even took up arms. But by the standard expressed here, they were all fools and losers.

    I think it’s important to maintain a wider perspective when evaluating an episode like this, and I think it’s also important to pay heed to the potential consequences. Because people will only be denied so much before it becomes truly ugly.

  12. This is a fairly silly analogy. Better – what if the Crown had been prepared to grant independence and they STILL rose up and rebelled?

    Are you prepared to invoke civil war with your own elected officials? Is this nation so corrupt that you cannot obtain what you want in responsible ways? Do you have no responsibility to support your own wants with solid evidence of its benefits?

    Now that we have our own democracy, it seems pretty silly to trash it with petulant and irresponsible behavior. Vermont did not. California did.

    If you think bashing people who WERE going to help you achieve your goals makes sense, then there is nothing I or anyone else can say to you.

  13. Thank you!!! This story should be required reading for all the ideological purists on the “professional Left.” There will be a test in the morning… (this Fall, actually).

  14. LOL!!!

    I fear that we can already see that the meme is – “Oh, the Blue Dogs were just looking for an excuse to kill single payer.”

    My reply – then why did you hand them the excuse?

    Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is not a progressive value. It seems, however, increasingly a progressive tactic.

  15. After reading this essay I’m truly embarrassed to be a Californian! I must admit I was unaware this bill was introduced by Senator Leno so I guess I should pay closer attention although my lone civil voice would have been drowned out by the evidently Mad Hatters. This is the sort of conduct that Joe Scarborough (Morning Joe on MSNBC) loves to blast liberals and liberalism for.

  16. I wish it were true that people aren’t obliged to put up with bullies. When the dominionists dominate, you have to (if you want to keep living and not have a whole new host of unpleasant problems).

  17. I consider myself a progressive. That and an “old school” liberal.

    This sounds more like the “Professional left” that has been talked about, rather than progressives.

  18. Oh? I sat in the room with other single payer folks, the mindless zealots, and heard them SAY THAT, and they are all Occupy enthusiasts.

    Stop pretending this cancer doesn’t exist everywhere. There is a narrowing of gap between the left and right, and irresponsible BS exists on both sides, even the SAME irresponsible BS.

  19. Don’t defend what you missed in this article “brooke”…take a deep breathe…and then read the article again.

  20. It is not professional at all…it is the effect of what this author pointed out in the first few paragraphs…you cannot go in with guns blazing and make unconditional demands. Period.

    I was a social justice lobbyist that spanned two decades and I understand how these relationships work, as does “Choicelady”. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the important queues she is giving here for how to NOT kill an issue that you are supporting. Just sayin’…

  21. This is not…I repeat…not an “episode”. This is an outgrowth of lack of political wherewithal. No matter what side is positing their views, these tactics only achieve the opposite by offending people and discouraging support.

    Politics is the art of compromise, and decorum is mandatory. Bullying is never a win for either side. As a person who has lobbied on behalf of domestic violence victims and children, I can assure you that I have been passionate more than I have not…but I also understood that I had to convey my message in ways that did not cut off my nose to spite my face (as my mother always said).

    As this author sums it up…where IS the “win”?

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