California Forum

Democrats, let go of single payer. Californians just aren’t that extreme.

A supporter of Senate Bill 562 demonstrates on the west steps of the state Capitol. SB 562 would create a universal single-payer health care system in California, but at an estimated cost of up to $400 billion.
A supporter of Senate Bill 562 demonstrates on the west steps of the state Capitol. SB 562 would create a universal single-payer health care system in California, but at an estimated cost of up to $400 billion.

Extremes make for good headlines. No one seems to know that better than our current president. But here in deep blue California, the extremes that are attracting all the attention are on the other side of the political spectrum.

Weeks later, Bernie Sanders’ true believers are still contesting the defeat of their candidate in the vote to chair the state Democratic Party. Meanwhile, one very vocal union, the California Nurses Association, has pushed a single-payer health care plan to the point that the state Senate has passed an egregiously irresponsible bill – one that would crater the state’s current health care delivery system and bankrupt the economy in the unlikely event it was ever enacted. Plus, it would return health care to a fee-for-service system that rewards quantity of service over quality of care.

If California Democrats want to hold onto their majorities in the state Legislature, and provide leadership nationally for a party that appears intent on squandering any opportunity to retake the House in 2018, they must get in sync with the state’s electorate by choosing pragmatic policymaking over ideology.

GOP registration is falling, not because the Democratic Party is booming, but because Independents are on the rise.

Values and guiding principles matter. We should agree on those. But successful politics and policies rely on compromise, pragmatism and the art of the possible. Some California Democrats are losing touch with this political reality.

Republican Party registration in the state has been in steady decline, but this is not because Democratic registration is booming. The winners have been Independents, who soon will overtake registered Republicans as the state’s second-largest voting bloc. Gaining and keeping the support of the fast-growing segment of Independent voters will provide the true test for California Democrats.

Nowhere is the disconnect between the Democratic Party and voters in California more graphic, and the hypocrisy more glaring, than in the left’s drive for statewide universal health care. Californians were aghast and offended when congressional Republicans gleefully pushed through their recent repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

House leaders piled into buses and headed to a backslapping photo-op with President Donald Trump while conspicuously ignoring the fact that the independent Congressional Budget Office, whose director is a Republican appointee no less, had not yet delivered its scoring of the bill. Was anyone really shocked later when the CBO reported that the American Health Care Act (aka Trumpcare) would eliminate medical insurance coverage for 23 million Americans?

But then liberal Democrats in the California Senate took an equally outrageous and hypocritical action with potentially comparable dire results. The cost of universal health care coverage under Senate Bill 562? Some $400 billion annually, more than double the entire proposed 2017-18 state budget, according to a Senate staff analysis.

Unfortunately, a majority of Democratic senators voted to pass the bill without confronting the inconvenient truth of how to pay for it. They left the mind-numbing cost out of the bill.

California voters are not going to be fooled. Polls show that, overall, they are moderate with clear priorities – jobs, affordable energy and housing, access to higher education, and a path for all to the middle class.

They want clean air but not if it means they can’t afford to buy gas for their often long commutes. And, yes, they want comprehensive health care, but that means state lawmakers should focus on how to protect and enhance Obamacare in California in the face of the assault from the Trump White House and the Republican-led Congress. Time to get real.

David Townsend is a partner at Townsend Calkin Tapio Public Affairs in Sacramento. He can be contacted at