California Dems Trade Barbs Over Stalled Single-Payer Bill

Nurses and health care activists rallied in Sacramento to push for universal health coverage in California. (Laura Kilvans/KQED)

Democrats in California are trading fire over the end of an effort to pass single-payer health care in the Legislature this year.

The California Nurses Association lashed out at Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who announced on Friday that the single-payer legislation would not advance in the Assembly in 2017. Rendon hit back on Monday, criticizing the legislation that passed the Senate earlier this month.

"Senate Bill 562 is not a serious discussion about single-payer," Rendon said. "Senate Bill 562 is a statement of values."

National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro has unleashed a social media tirade against Rendon in the days since his decision to shelve the bill. DeMoro called the speaker "outrageous" and said Rendon would end up on the "wrong side of history."

The nurses union has planned a pair of rallies this week to push their effort forward, or at least to exact political punishment on the Assembly speaker.

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Rendon maintained that he is in favor of single-payer health care, and that the effort can continue in the Legislature in the current session that runs through 2018. But he said that the process would have played out very differently if the bill had started in the Assembly.

“I’m sure that our committees would have asked the very basic questions that needed to be asked," Rendon said. "Like how would this be paid for? How would this system operate?"

He also emphasized that Democratic energy should be focused squarely on defeating the Republican health plan in Congress.

The bill that passed the Senate came with an estimated price tag of $400 billion. Around $100 billion of that total would need to come from a new revenue source.

The debate over whether to pursue a government-run health care system in California through SB 562 has exposed divides among powerful factions of the Democratic Party.

Party chair Eric Bauman called Rendon's decision "an unambiguous disappointment." That sentiment was echoed by progressives across the state and beyond.

But the powerful labor union SEIU California stood behind Rendon on Monday.

"There is a lot of work to do on SB 562, and we remain eager to engage in that conversation," said president Laphonza Butler in a statement.

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