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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

CA Budget Battle Shows How Ideologues Can Undermine Health Care

The big buzz today is rightly about the President’ health care reform press conference. Harold Meyerson, however, has an instructive column in today’s La. Times, “GOP: Going Over the Precipice,” showing how Republicans in the California state legislature undermine health care and education. In one nut graph. Meyerson succinctly nails the outcome of their manipulation of the state constitution, which requires 2/3 majority in the legislature to enact the budget and tax hikes. Republicans, who are about a third of the state legislature, are refusing to pass a budget unless the $26 billion shortfall is paid for with deep spending cuts, and some Democratic leaders have apparently caved to their threat. Meyerson says:

The consequences of those demands are stark. Hundreds of thousands of children will lose their healthcare and tens of thousands of aged and disabled California will lose their in-home support services. Public K-12 schools will continue to lay off teachers and cut class offerings, and both the University of California and the state university system will have their state funding cut by roughly 20%. At a time when state business leaders are crying out for a better-educated workforce, the Republicans in the Legislature have pushed through policies that will make the state both sicker and dumber.

But that’s not all. Meyerson explains how the adverse effects of draconian spending cuts the Republicans are demanding will reverberate through the state economy:

The cutbacks also will deepen the state’s already deep recession. Public employees will have less money to spend. City and country redevelopment agencies, their funds impounded by Sacramento, will suspend their construction projects — and there are precious few construction projects in the state today besides those that redevelopment agencies are funding.
Indeed, the cutbacks may trigger a vicious cycle: By worsening the recession, they further reduce state revenues, which will lead to even more cutbacks as long as the Republicans continue to cling to one-third of the Legislature and to their distinctive brand of concern for the welfare of the state. (They are concerned about California like the Visigoths were concerned about Rome.)

Meyerson is here talking about California. But progressive reform advocates take note that a change of the state and a few words, and you have a well-stated argument, focusing on diminished services, against Republican spending cut philosophy in most other states.
Meyerson attributes part of the problem to state Democrats’ lack of a “well-known leader” to make their case to the state legislature and to the public, and he challenges CA Attorney-General and former Governor Jerry Brown and/or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to step up and provide the needed leadership. But the most important reason Meyerson cites is that the state Constitution gives the GOP the power to hold the state budget — and services — hostage to the views of Republican ideologues who run CA GOP.
Meyerson urges CA Dems to pick a compelling spokesman and “consider calling the GOP’s bluff” and vote against the Republican deal. He also urges Californians to amend their state Constitution “to end the practice of minority rule.” No doubt the Republicans would respond by trying to slam Dems as the new obstructionists, so Meyerson’s challenge will require a more assertive public education campaign to reveal the devastation of CA services that would result. It’s a combative strategy Meyerson suggests, but it appears the combination of the state constitution’s 2/3 vote requirement and domination of ideologues in the Republican ranks of the state legislature leave little alternative.
Most of the commenters following Meyerson’s article are advocates of spending cuts. But one saw it this way:

It is even worse than reported here. Yesterday our Doctor informed us that MediCal/MediCare was cutting back every patients by up to 2/3s to save money. My wife, who is terminal, is going to have her pain med cut by 50% in the next couple months. Our Dr., the director of a large County Clinic, was no the verge of tears as he tried to explain there was nothing he could do but follow the new rules that were made to save money with no regard of the extreme suffering this will cause. This will impact at least a couple hundred thousand people in Ca.

The stakes are clearly high, and how effectively the Democrats respond is literally a life or death issue for many Californians.

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