Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom challenged California’s Democratic-run Legislature to pass sweeping universal, government-run health care next year, pledging that if the bill stalls again, he will make it a priority regardless of what happens in Washington.
“There’s no reason to wait around on universal health care and single-payer in California,” Newsom said to thunderous applause from thousands of nurses who endorsed him in next year’s governor’s race. “It’s time to move (Senate Bill) 562 along. It’s time to get it out of committee. It’s time to move it along the legislative track. It’s time to do that now. We don’t need to wait for the governor’s race. We don’t need even to wait another year.”
The former mayor of San Francisco acknowledged that the ambitious legislation was not fleshed out when Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a fellow Democrat, kept it from advancing earlier this year after it passed the state Senate.
But Newsom, touting his own role in helping bring universal health care to his city while tearing into the health insurance giant Anthem, said lawmakers should let the process play out, irrespective of the fight over the future of health care in Washington.
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“No one is saying it’s perfect or complete, but that’s not the point ... that’s not what the legislative process is all about,” Newsom said of the bill. “It’s a question about leadership. It’s a question of commitment. It’s a question of resolve.”
Newsom’s support for the universal health care measure puts him at the forefront of the debate and alone among the major candidates for governor.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said he agrees with Rendon that the bill could not be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown without a funding plan.
Villaraigosa, who has derided the concept of single-payer without addressing where the money will come from as “snake oil,” believes the state’s priority is to stop congressional efforts to take upward of $20 billion from the state budget, denying health care to millions of people here.
His campaign accused Newsom of trying to have it both ways by lending his support to it advancing while pointing to its current deficiencies.
“This is an outrageous parsing of words when millions of people are at risk of losing their health care,” Luis Vizcaino, Villaraigosa’s spokesman, said in a statement. “Newsom is a good politician who knows how to parse words, but parsing will not deliver health care to anyone.”
State Treasurer John Chiang also did not take a position on SB 562, saying he needs more information about delivery of care, cost containment and funding. Delaine Eastin came out strongly for SB 562 and has been a consistent supporter.
Both Republicans running for the office, Travis Allen and John Cox, oppose universal health care and support repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Speaking with reporters after his speech to the California Nurses Association, Newsom again stressed that he expected changes, something the bill’s authors have said repeatedly.
“I support guaranteed, universal health access,” he said plainly when asked about iterations of the bill. “I want to do it in the most cost-effective way. Right now I believe that’s single-payer.”
But Newsom said he wanted to underscore “the urgency of the moment,” given the threat of the Graham-Cassidy bill in Congress. Later, Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he would not support the Graham-Cassidy bill, likely ending its chances. Newsom supports Sanders’ Medicare-for-all bill.
Newsom added: “The biggest risk is not that we aim too high and miss, it’s that we aim too low and miss it.”
“I’ll make this crystal clear – if we can’t get it done next year, you have my firm and absolute commitment, as your next governor, that I will lead the effort to get it done. We will get universal health care in the state of California. We will make sure it happens.”