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Can Arnold win on healthcare?

January 07, 2007|Lou Cannon | Lou Cannon is the author of five books on Ronald Reagan, most recently "Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power."

"It's like greenhouse gases," said William Hauck, president of the California Business Roundtable, referring to legislation that Schwarzenegger signed to curb global-warming emissions. "Schwarzenegger sees the federal government as not stepping in and doing anything productive. He wants to prove it's doable in a nation-state and thereby leave a constructive legacy as governor."

To achieve this legacy, Schwarzenegger will have to stand up to the legislative wing of his party, far more conservative than he is on most issues. Many Republican state legislators oppose extending health coverage to the children of undocumented immigrants. California's archaic legislative rule requiring two-thirds approval for bills with a financial impact allows the minority Republicans to be spoilers, if they want to be.

Schwarzenegger also will have to placate the Democratic majority, with whom he worked well in 2006. Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) has his own healthcare bill and has opposed forcing individuals to buy health insurance.

Republican Gov. Warren, at the height of his prestige in 1945, was so popular that he would a year later win both the Republican and Democratic nominations for governor. But when he offered a plan that would have provided state-subsidized healthcare and up to 21 days of hospitalization for about two-thirds of Californians, he was treated as a crackpot, and his bill was buried in committee.

After the Warren experience, most California governors avoided healthcare issues until Pete Wilson created a program known as Healthy Families to finance medical care for poor children. Even Wilson's relatively modest proposals were twice rejected by the Legislature before they were enacted, another reminder of the difficulty of making progress on healthcare reform.

Schwarzenegger, however, is buoyed by newfound public support for efforts to fix a system that voters agree with him is broken. In a Field Poll last week, more than eight in 10 California voters expressed the view that government should guarantee that everyone can obtain affordable health coverage. It is a tantalizing prospect, but history teaches that it will not be easy to translate this expectation into reality.

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