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Why Democrats lose, even in California

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Democrats Help Corporate Donors Block California Health Care Measure, And Progressives Lose Again

As Republican lawmakers grapple with their unpopular bill to repeal Obamacare, Democrats have tried to present a united front on health care. But for all their populist rhetoric against insurance and drug companies, Democratic powerbrokers and their allies remain deeply divided on the issue — to the point where a political civil war has spilled into the open in America’s largest state.

In California last week, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon helped his and his party’s corporate donors block a Democrat-sponsored bill to create a universal health care program in which the government would be the single payer.

Rendon’s decision shows how progressives’ ideal of universal health care remains elusive — even in a liberal state where government already foots 70 percent of the total health care bill.

Until Rendon’s move, things seemed to be looking up for Democratic single-payer proponents in deep blue California, which has been hammered by insurance premium increases. There, the Democratic Party — which originally created Medicare — just added a legislative supermajority to a Democratic-controlled state government that oversees the world’s sixth largest economy. That 2016 election victory came as a poll showed nearly two-thirds of Californians support the creation of a taxpayer-funded universal health care system in a state whose population is roughly the size of Canada — which already has such a system.

California’s highest-profile federal Democratic lawmaker recently endorsed state efforts to create single-payer systems, and 25 members of its congressional delegation had signed on to sponsor a federal single-payer bill.

Meanwhile, after Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had twice vetoed state single-payer legislation, California in 2010 elected a governor who had previously campaigned for president on a pledge to support such a system. Other statewide elected officials had also declared their support for single-payer, including the current lieutenant governor, who promised to enact a universal health care program if he is wins the governorship in 2018.

None of that, though, made the difference: Late Friday, Rendon announced that even though a single-payer bill had passed the Democratic-controlled state senate, he would not permit the bill to be voted on by the Assembly this year.

“As someone who has long been a supporter of single payer, I am encouraged by the conversation begun by Senate Bill 562,” Rendon said. But “senators who voted for SB 562 noted there are potentially fatal flaws in the bill, including the fact it does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump Administration and voters to make SB 562 a genuine piece of legislation.”

Since 2012, Rendon has taken in more than $82,000 from business groups and healthcare corporations that are listed in state documents opposed the measure, according to an International Business Times review of data amassed by the National Institute on Money In State Politics. In all, he has received more than $101,000 from pharmaceutical companies and another $50,000 from major health insurers.

In the same time, the California Democratic Party has received more than $1.2 million from the specific groups opposing the bill, and more than $2.2 million from pharmaceutical and health insurance industry donors. That includes a $100,000 infusion of cash from Blue Shield of California in the waning days of the 2016 election — just before state records show the insurer began lobbying against the single-payer bill.

While Rendon oversees a supermajority, it had never been clear that Assembly Democrats would muster the two-thirds vote needed under the state constitution to add the new taxes needed to fund the single-payer system proposed by the senate-passed bill. That’s because the Democratic Assembly caucus includes progressive legislators but also more conservative members who are closer to business interests.

In addition to the money given to Rendon, the groups opposing the single-payer measure have delivered more than $1.5 million to Democratic assembly members since the 2012 election cycle. In all, the 55 Democratic members of the 80-seat Assembly have received more than $2.7 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries in just the last three election cycles.

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