Disillusioned by Sen. Barbara Boxer’s stand on health care reform and immigration, leaders of the California progressive community have decided it’s time to play hardball.
Representatives of labor, gay and lesbian, feminist and other liberal organizations are launching an aggressive campaign, including letters to 10,000 campaign contributors, to call attention to their belief that Boxer has abandoned her liberal constituency.
The “Boxer Rebellion,” as they describe it, is intended to pressure the first-year senator into backing the single-payer health care plan that she once endorsed as a House member. The single-payer plan, modeled after the Canadian-style system in which only the government pays health providers, is endorsed by more than 90 members of Congress, consumer groups and the California Democratic Party.
Boxer, a member of the Senate task force on health care, supports President Clinton’s reform plan.
“We think Boxer has sold out,” said Dana Hohn, executive director of Southern California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the organization spearheading the campaign. “We’re all mad at her about a lot of different things, but health care is the one issue on which we’ve all come together and are going to push her on.”
Boxer aides flatly rejected the notion that the Marin County Democrat has betrayed her liberal base of support. They pointed to a number of causes that Boxer has fought for in the Senate, including allowing gays to serve openly in the military, continued government funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and the confirmation of Roberta Achtenberg, the first openly homosexual official in a top federal post.
“Those are very strongly held beliefs that she is continuing to advocate,” said Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s California director. “Anyone who says those issues are moving to the center is not in touch.”
Boxer declined to be interviewed, but she said in a statement relayed through a top aide that she continues to press for the same principles she outlined during her campaign--universal, quality health care at the lowest possible price, including the right of any state to select the single-payer option.
“I am also leading the fight to ensure that a woman’s right to choose (abortion) is protected in this plan,” Boxer said.
The ADA is expected today to formally announce its “Boxer Rebellion” in a news release. It began the campaign last week by sending a three-page letter to 10,000 of Boxer’s campaign contributors and asking them to contact the senator on behalf of the single-payer plan. The letter was signed by representatives of the Screen Actors Guild, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Communication Workers of America, AIDS Project Los Angeles and the California Nurses Assn. Numerous telephone and letter-writing rallies directed at Boxer also have been organized.
Some participants in the campaign said they are disappointed in Boxer’s views on health care but remain supportive of her overall efforts.
Said Boxer: “I have great respect for the ADA even though we have different approaches to this issue.”
Boxer’s position on health care is not the first time she has clashed with her liberal supporters. They were dismayed with Boxer’s recent suggestion to send armed National Guard troops to the border to help stem the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico.
“We were just appalled,” said Lucy Bava, president of Women For, a Southern California feminist group that raised more than $30,000 for Boxer. “If you asked me last year before she was elected, I’d tell you Barbara would never suggest doing anything like that.”
Political experts say it should come as little surprise that Boxer is seeking to shed her liberal reputation and move toward the mainstream on certain high-profile issues. They said this is a predictable effort to become more widely accepted among constituents statewide. A recent Times poll found that nearly three out of four Californians supported Boxer’s National Guard proposal.
“She has no choice if she wants to stay in office,” said Bruce E. Cain, associate director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC-Berkeley. “You would expect any rational politician to (ask), ‘What is it going to take to get me reelected?’ Being a Marin Democrat is not the ticket to electoral success in this state.”
When Boxer entered the Senate, the ADA and other liberal groups fully expected her to co-sponsor single-payer legislation offered by Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. After all, Boxer had offered similar support for single-payer legislation in the House. And Health Care Access, a statewide coalition of 200 union, church and consumer groups, gave Boxer its only perfect 10 rating during last year’s campaign because of her support for single-payer.
Liberals contend that the single-payer concept is the only true reform measure that will solve the nation’s health care crisis by offering comprehensive coverage at lower costs and by driving the insurance industry out of the health care business. President Clinton’s plan would create health alliances made up of consumers who band together to buy insurance from medical providers.
Aides said Boxer did not specifically support the single-payer concept in the House or during her Senate campaign. Regarding her co-sponsorship of the House bill, Boxer said: “When I was in the House, my strategy was to go on all health care bills in order to move the agenda forward. Now that the agenda has moved up, my strategy is not to co-sponsor any bills, but to work to craft the best possible package.”