SACRAMENTO — The California Senate approved creating a government-run health care system for the nation's most populous state on Thursday, ignoring a veto threat from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Supporters said it is time for state legislatures to take up the debate as the Obama Administration's national health care proposal falters in Congress.
"If it's not to be done at the national level, let us take the lead," said state Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego.
The move in California comes after Massachusetts voters changed the calculus in Congress by electing a Republican to the Senate who opposes the pending plan.
Democrats are the majority in both houses of the California Legislature. The 40-member state Senate passed the single-payer plan on a 22-14 vote, sending it to the Assembly. One Democrat voted against the measure.
Schwarzenegger promised to veto the proposal, as he has two similar plans that previously reached his desk. Spokeswoman Rachel Arrezola cited the state's massive budget cuts and looming $20 billion deficit in arguing the state cannot afford to shift to a single-payer health care system.
"Any elected official who thinks it's a good idea to strap the state with tens of billions of dollars from a government-run health care system is clearly not in touch with what voters need and deserve," Arrezola said.
The proposal by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, authorizes $1 million to establish a commission that would decide how to pay for the system. The funding plan would ultimately have to be approved by voters.
Leno argued the state-run plan would replace the $200 billion Californians already pay for their health care while eliminating insurance companies' share. He previously said the system could use existing state and federal money and a payroll tax, coupled with increased efficiencies from a government-run system.
"We are spending $200 billion currently," Leno said. "It is the same $200 billion used in a more efficient, cost-effective fashion."
Republicans derided the timing of the vote, saying Democrats are ignoring the lesson in Massachusetts at their political peril.
"This plan is to the left and radical of what couldn't get out of Washington," said Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Republicans refused to support even a $14.7 billion health care reform bill that Schwarzenegger, a Republican, negotiated with Democratic leaders two years ago.
"Not a single Republican vote - so what are you for?" asked Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento who usually strikes a conciliatory bipartisan tone. "The demagoguery needs to be answered and addressed."
Schwarzenegger's proposal actually was undone by Democrat Don Perata, Steinberg's predecessor in the Senate, when he ordered a financial review that found the plan would be billions of dollars out of balance within a few years.
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