Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, visited The Bee Capitol Bureau on Wednesday to discuss some of the biggest issues facing the California Legislature this year. Here’s what he had to say:
Single-payer health care
Senate Bill 562, which would create a universal, publicly funded health care system in California, has generated enormous enthusiasm among liberals. But business groups are strongly opposed, and even some Democrats have expressed skepticism about the steep costs associated with the policy.
“I’m philosophically in favor of single-payer,” Rendon said. “Whether or not now is the time, and looking at that particular bill, I don’t know.”
Rendon said “the timing may be a challenge” because “there’s so much in flux at the federal government level.” President Donald Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act puts at risk money California has already used to expand health coverage through Medi-Cal, its insurance plan for the poor.
“There’s obviously a political component to it as well, but the funding piece is significant,” Rendon said.
Gov. Jerry Brown has made it a priority to extend cap-and-trade, the greenhouse gas reduction program that requires carbon polluters to buy emissions credits. He’d like to do so with a two-thirds majority of the Legislature, because a lawsuit is challenging the system as an illegal tax. The program has been upheld so far.
“The courts made pretty clear twice that all we needed was a 41-vote bill,” Rendon said. “That’s a threshold that may make my life a little easier. If he wants to do two-thirds, I’m open to having conversations about it. But it’s a big difference between 54 votes and 41 votes.”
The recently approved transportation funding deal that raised fuel taxes is another complicating factor. Extending cap-and-trade would add further costs to price of gasoline in California.
“I can see where there would be a lot of hesitation on the part of members to go to that well again,” Rendon said.
Some Democrats also want to see program benefits focused more on communities most impacted by air pollution, linking public health to climate change. Rendon is supportive of that approach.
“Eduardo Garcia, I think, framed it really well last year when he kept saying, ‘I care about polar bears, but I also care about people in my district suffering from asthma,’ ” he said. “We’ve done a good job of trying to think about it as not only a California issue, but as an Inland Empire issue, as a Central Valley issue, as a local issue in general.”
Republicans were outraged when the Legislature’s Democratic leaders hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to assist with legal challenges posed by policy conflicts with the Trump administration. Holder visited the Capitol in February, but had little to say about what he was doing other than that he would do it “well.”
“He’s been doing it well,” Rendon said. “He has cautioned us to make sure that if we’re going to pursue something legally, or even legislatively, that we make sure that we don’t institute sort of a states’ rights stance that might become problematic if somebody else ends up in the White House, if somebody else ends up in Congress.”
“He’s given us legislative advice on individual pieces of legislation, and how to sort of protect that legislation, and even other pieces of legislation that we did in the past, how to insulate that from attack from the federal government,” he added. “So it’s been a valuable relationship.”
Rendon said they had not yet decided whether to extend Holder’s original $75,000, three-month contract.
California Democrats sounded the alarm after Trump’s election, but his policies have largely faltered in the first three months of his presidency. Rendon is astonished by “the political ineptitude of the Trump administration.”
“It’s not how I thought it was going to play out. I expected much more draconian things to happen,” he said. “I never thought of him as very smart, but I thought he would have folks around him that were smarter and more capable than they’ve been. So their lack of accomplishments thus far are a surprise to me. ... That being said, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”