Senate Democratic Leaders Kill Hope Amendment
Senate Democratic leaders have blocked a ballot referral from progressive House Democrats, including Rep. Mitch Greenlick of Portland, that would have declared access to healthcare a constitutional right, denying a chance for the people to vote on the measure this fall.
House Joint Resolution 203 was killed in the Senate Health Committee on Monday after Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, said the measure “doesn’t have a pathway off the Senate floor.”
“I’m also disappointed. But I respect the decision that the leadership has made,” said Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield.
“It’s the third time in a row that the Senate won’t even take it to the floor,” said Greenlick. “I trust the citizens of our state. Universal access to healthcare is something our citizens desire.”
The Portland Democrat had hoped that after voters approved funding for the Oregon Health Plan by a resounding 62-38 vote in January, it would be time to take the next step and call a vote on the right to universal healthcare access. He said without the vote, legislators will be left with only anecdotal information about what the state’s adult citizens want.
The ballot referral would not have had any immediate effect if voters approved had it -- any expansion of existing programs or changes to the healthcare financing system would have required additional legislation. Greenlick dubbed his long-running proposal the Hope Amendment because of its aspirational nature, originally titled “Hope for Oregon Families” in 2006.
Greenlick told The Lund Report that he had support from 13 Senate Democrats. The holdouts were the usual opponents -- Sen. Betsy Johnson, Sen. Mark Hass, Sen. Ginny Burdick and Senate President Peter Courtney -- the center-right Democratic bloc that holds sway in the Oregon Senate. Greenlick recited a famous epithet from U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill: “The Republicans are the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.”
Their steadfast opposition to Greenlick’s symbolic ballot referral should allay concerns that a potential supermajority in the House and Senate after this fall’s elections might lead to an overly liberal Legislature. The progressive House pushes the envelope and the conservative Senate pushes back for the status quo, even with Democrats in charge of both chambers the past six years.
Courtney in particular has long been a backstop against progressive legislation from the House. He killed hospital price transparency in 2015 and the women’s reproductive health law that passed last year first had to overcome the Senate Democratic leaders, who blocked an earlier bill.
In a statement, Burdick, the Senate majority leader, said: “The bill would have needed extensive amendments for it to get the support it needs in the Senate, and given this late timing in the session, the committee chair made the difficult decision to not move forward with it,” passing the buck to Monnes Anderson, one of the chief sponsors of HJR 203.
But Greenlick had already submitted an amendment to the bill that specifically stated that any healthcare spending must be balanced against public education and other state services. He asked that the bill be moved to the Senate Rules Committee for another hearing this session, but Monnes Anderson denied that request Monday.
HJR 203 passed the House with every Democrat on board, but Republicans locked up against it, arguing it would force the state to shift resources from things like education. The measure also started taking on water when the nonpartisan League of Women Voters came out against it, echoing the Republican argument that the state lacks the resources to afford an expansion, particularly without the help of the federal government.
Greenlick disputed the math that it would break the bank, even if the state did have to expand its role in healthcare financing: “In a single risk pool, we could reduce the cost of healthcare in the state.”
Reach Chris Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.